A Hand-Written Letter Will Always Outlast Your Smartphone

In a twist of irony, I got my first smartphone this week – and it’s ironic for many reasons. I mean, I write code to run on smartphones and didn’t even own one until now. And, my husband works for a manufacturer of smartphones. But, most of all, because I just spent 3 days sorting, arranging and otherwise archiving my pre-digital life of letters and photos – things that the smartphone and other technologies are pushing to obsolescence.

It has been on my to-do list for at least 10 years, maybe 15… ever since I started accumulating drawers full of the stuff. But, doing the exercise reminded me of something. There is still no replacement for a hand-written letter or a well-composed film photo.

Yes, email and social networks and instantly uploaded photos enhance our lives in so many ways. But, there is something truly special about these treasures from the past. In amongst the run-of-the-mill family holiday cards and birthday greetings I found gems like letters from each of my parents marking my “entry into womanhood” – kind of embarrassing at the time, but special now. And, I found the blueprints my 90-year-old, architect great-grandfather made me to build a model railroad, along with a letter explaining the techniques for building a fake mountain and how a second train would give me more enjoyment from the railroad.

Photo credit: Sarah Clatterbuck / Sorting my pre-digital life (snapped from my smartphone)

There was the letter my grandmother and grandfather in Florida wrote me at age 9 to thank me for lending them my mother for a couple weeks and how her visit meant. Further down in the drawer was a letter from my high school boyfriend telling me all about his new life at college with all sorts of silly drawings and asides in the margins.

And, there was a whole pile of hand-written notes from my husband – some of them short notes left behind when he ran errands, others beautiful expressions of our unfolding love in various cards and letters.

In amongst the throw-away photos of slumber parties and beach trips, I found some black and whites that I snapped documenting Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ home when I was in high school and some beautiful black and whites that our friend shot at our wedding. I even printed up the proofsheet of the Thanksgiving photos myself, in a darkroom.  That kind of thing no phone-cam can do justice to.

Next month a friend I’ve had for 15 years will be moving away to do some important work in France. A few of us are going to retreat together soon to send her off in style. After she moves, there will be lots of video chat and social networks to keep us all in touch. But today, I’m sitting down to give her a real gift. I’m going to write her a letter, by hand, telling her what she has meant in my life and my hopes for her future.

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Sarah Clatterbuck
I am a front-end engineer and engineering manager at Yahoo! by day and an avid cyclist and runner in my spare time. I race for a women's cycling team called Velo Bella and coach on weekends for the Bay Area Velo Girls. As a native to the Bay Area, I love all things adventurous and regularly travel to ride my bike, trek, try out new languages, and sample local cuisine. I feel as though I'm always learning new things in this great adventure called life, and am eager to share my experiences with others.