A lament for the letter

Remember the thrill of waiting for, and at long last receiving, a handwritten letter from a friend?

A few months back, I stumbled upon this page of letters by Jane Austen.

Now, before you abandon this blog post at the very mention of such a stuffy, petticoat-wearing literary lass, I ask that you indulge me and read these delicious quotes from her letters:

"I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive."
"I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error."
"Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end."

Now, imagine if we removed Austen from the candle-lit drawing room with a windowseat that overlooks the moors and plonked her in 2006. Here is how those same sentiments would be conveyed by that most modern of communication tools, the e-mail:

Hey babe,

Thanks for your text last night. I ended up getting completely munted, and my hands are still shaking this morning...so if there's any typos thats why. We should catch up soon, give me a call on my mob if your around and we'll do lunch or something.

K, gotta get back to work...must try to get through the day despite feeling like I'm gonna hurl any minute.

-J

The demise of the handwritten letter vexes me greatly. The lovely thing about letters is that they contain the essence of their author. They are a delight not just for their content, but for the sheer intimacy of the medium. A handwritten letter is an artefact -- an item that captures and preserves the writer's mood and surroundings. Written at leisure, without the indulgence of a delete key or instantaneous delivery, a letter is a gift.

Now I'm a tech girl to the max, but it saddens me that while my mother has a wicker chest full of letters penned by friends and relatives, their personalities evident in a swirling scrawl, funny drawings or the smell of perfume on the page, I have an inbox full of spam, forwarded jokes and typo-laden requests.