English students aren’t the only people who read the letters of the deceased, nor are historians. Many people are nosy and enjoy the insight into people’s minds and lives. As I write this, the collected letters of Kingsley Amis are next to me – a huge mammoth of a book; Alan Bennett’s collections of autobiography and letters are on a bookshelf downstairs, and I recently returned a volume of H. G. Wells’ correspondence to my University library. I’ve loved reading all of them, and fear that future generations will not be able to experience the thrill of prying into the lives of today’s great authors.
That email and instant messages are the norm is horrible for the art of letter writing, and for the art of handwriting. Gone are pages of flowing, cursive script, scrawled and blotted – replaced by lines of regimental font on a screen. But the problem, in this case, lies in the nature of modern communication: it’s not permanent. Phone calls aren’t recorded (normally), texts not saved, emails deleted and hard disks failing.
In twenty, fifty, a hundred years time, scholars won’t be able to relate an author’s writing to their life experiences, and won’t necessarily be able to delve deep into political mysteries. Those other people, who just want to know, or just enjoy reading the intricacies of people’s lives won’t be able to.
Either we all look to the future and print off all our emails, or constantly back them up or we revert back to physical letter-writing.