Monday, March 24, 2014

The lost art of the "hot letter"

"Whenever Abraham Lincoln felt the urge to tell someone off," Maria Konnikova writes in Sunday's New York Times, "He would compose what he called a 'hot letter.' He'd pile all of his anger into a note, put it aside until his emotions cooled down...and then write: 'Never sent. Never signed.'"

Honest Abe was quite sensible.

In an age of instant communication, I think we could all benefit from writing our own "hot letter" every now and then. Those wise words our grandparents used to tell us ("If you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all!") certainly got lost in the Internet Age. Now we say pretty much anything we want and don't mind that the whole world reads our dirty laundry.

        We may have more avenues to express immediate 
        displeasure than ever before, and may thus find 
        ourselves more likely to hit send or tweet when 
        we would have done better to hit save or delete,    
        Konnikova argues. The ease of venting drowns 
        out the possibility of recanting, and the speed 
        of it all prevents a deeper consideration of 
        what exactly we should say and why, precisely, 
        we should say it.

And it's not just vitriol clogging our News Feed. Over-sharing is the new normal: we unashamedly post half-naked selfies and upload awkward potty-training photos of our kids; we write long-winded, rambling political posts and tweet how food poisoning or drinking too much resulted in a night spent hugging porcelain. 

It begs the question: Is nothing sacred? 

I enjoy social media and apply it liberally when required (although a friend warned me to "stop now while [I] still possess a soul" when I recently joined Twitter). But I'm afraid this 21st century-style catharsis is making privacy an endangered commodity.

What would Lincoln have thought of all this? Something tells me Honest Abe would have advised us to not be so honest all the time.

The lost art of the angry unsent letter. (The New York Times)

Andy Warhol's landlord probably wrote a first draft "hot letter" before sending this angry yet self-controlled one. (Flavorwire)