A group of volunteers are raising awareness about the lost art of letter writing by handwriting and snail mailing messages that people send them via e-mail. Those who request a snail mail letter can even request that the volunteer letter-writer includes a doodle along with the text. Volunteers and those who utilize the service talk about how hand written letters are more meaningful than messages sent through e-mail. They claim that hand written letters are more personal and represent time, care, and effort.
There are several interesting and related going on here. I will talk about each one in turn:
First, we can think of this as augmented letter writing. The messages are constructed in both digital and material form, and sent both electronically and physically across space to the receiver. The messages, constructed and received, are equally digital and physical.
Second, we see an inversion and augmentation of the mediation process. We often juxtapose non-electronic forms of communication against computer-mediated-communication. Here, we see computer based communications being mediated through human beings. The electronic form of the message is primary, mediated secondarily by human hands. Perhaps we can think of this as human-mediated-electronic-communication.
Third, we see in this Baudrillard’s simulacra, where the hand written letter, which signifies the time, care and effort of the sender, embodies instead only the symbol of this time care and effort. Actual time, care and effort on the part of the sender are subverted by human-mediated-electronic communication. The sender’s effort, time and care are displaced by the electronic media and the mediating human (i.e. the volunteer).
Finally, we might think of human-mediated-electronic communication (such as that seen in the “Snail Mail my Email” campaign) as a form of romanticized nostalgia for a more “authentic” past, facilitated (ironically) through contemporary technologies. It is hyperreal, as the romance and authenticity of the hand written letter is accomplished not by an unmediated effort of the mind, heart and hand, but through an extra step in the mediation process.