‘I am always sorry to see a typed letter from you.” The sentiment that opens a 1957 letter from historian Hugh Trevor-Roper to his friend, the art critic Bernard Berenson, is a relic of a bygone age. Trevor-Roper explains that typing means Berenson is unwell, and he looks forward to seeing his hand on the page again. By that criterion, our entire generation is unwell.
For most of history, manuscript copying, handwriting and the slow, deliberate scratch of a stylus were the means of transmitting civilization. Letters were not always easy to decipher: English clergyman Sydney Smith said of his handwriting: “It is as if a swarm of ants, escaping from the ink-bottle, had walked over a sheet of paper without wiping their legs.” Nonetheless, they brought one closer to the writer than pixels or print.
When in the museum we see actual writing from Leonardo or Maimonides we are reminded how much is lost when all thought is expressed in type. It is rare, and far less convenient, to receive something by “snail mail.” But remember, it is not only that snails are slow — they leave a trail behind them.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe