First World Problems: Binary to Stationery

November 14, 2016

Sifting through the sea of children’s letters, Santa’s eyes grow weary.  His optic nerves strain as he pushes himself to read just one more of the monotonous letters written in Calibri or Times New Roman.  It wasn’t always like this.  Santa used to look forward to perusing the handwritten notes from young children, trying to puzzle out whether that was a “q” or a “g”.  Now the letters leave no mistake, and no magic either.  Suddenly, one note catches his eye.  He flips the card over and is disappointed.  The address is written in an unusually legible and adult handwriting. 

Sifting through the sea of junk mail, my eyes grow weary.  My optic nerves strain as I sort through the printed envelopes and flyers.  My eyes perk up at the sight of a handwritten note.  No return address, I muse, as I slide the letter opener through the fold.  The envelope contains a quaint handwritten card, in a handwriting I feel I know as well as I know that Nutella solves all problems, though I can’t quite place it.  The note is vague, so I flip over the card to see who the sender might be.  The polite logo on the back informs me that this card was handwritten by the lovely folks at MailLift, a handwritten letter service for companies with cash to blow.  I feel the sting of betrayal as the realization sets in that this sender knows nothing about me, but pretended to be someone familiar all the same.  Instead of being tricked by technology, I was tricked by the very thing I thought couldn’t deceive me: humans.

MailLift, like dozens of other companies of similar nature, offers their clients a full retreat into the digital world by providing made-to-order handwritten letters.  In short, the customer tells the hand writer what they want the letter to say, usually over email, and the hand writer uses their mastery of a millenniums old skill to write and mail the customer’s letter.  Most companies guarantee their letters will be ready to mail in 3-5 days, whereas if you were going to write your own letters, it might take you several months to actually get around to it.  This handwriting service ranges anywhere between $2.50 - $7 per letter, with some companies charging startup account fees as well.  Although this may seem steep for a folded piece of paper and some ink, the MailLift website assures us that the customer “will benefit greatly” from their investment ("Handwritten Letters for Sales and Marketers"). 

To begin the journey towards hassle-free bliss, most handwriting companies ask that you put down a deposit proportional to the volume of letters you expect to purchase.  Then all you have to do is fire off a quick email with your desired letter content and sit back and wait for all the gratitude from your recipients.  After the company receives your email instructions, the hand writers buckle up and crank out your letter verbatim from your email.  A picture of the completed letter is taken to ensure quality control as well as correct grammar and readability.  After the letter has been approved by the grammar checkers, the note is sent off to its destination.  The charge appears on your credit card statement at the end of the month, and you ponder if paying someone else to do your dirty work was really worth it. 

The website for Think Ink Marketing asserts that handwritten letters “incorporate a ‘personal touch’ back into marketing” ("Philosophy").  This whole idea brings up a few questions in my mind.  First: you can pay people to do what? Of all the strange and frivolous services available on the Internet, this one stumps me the most.  Why not just write your own? It seems in this age, technology has come so far that people would rather type a message and pay someone else to write it than lift a damn pen and do it themselves.  Years ago, people did the reverse.  Secretaries were paid salaries to take notes from their bosses, and type them up from handwriting or shorthand to binary or type.  Now society has made a full 360 and desires to go from binary to handwriting!  And can you imagine the monotony those hired hand writers must suffer?

Indeed, there do seem to be merits to handwritten letters in terms of marketing.  Companies who utilize these handwriting services report better customer response and more profit than companies who use typed mailings.  Although the services seem inherently silly to me, I can see the attraction for large businesses.  However, a handful of these handwriting services market their goods specifically to private individuals who want that “personal touch” for their personal letters.  This is where I have an issue.  Can you imagine receiving a letter from your dear ailing grandmother in Idaho, only to turn it over and realize that the letter was not it fact written by your precious grandmother, but some corporate grandmother imposter? Can you imagine the disappointment and betrayal? Your own grandmother couldn’t take the time to scratch out a few words on cardstock for you. But I bet she sure as heck had time for bingo night at the retirement home with all the time she saved by hiring someone to handwrite her letters. 

From a brief survey of these handwriting companies’ websites, it appears that thousands of companies are turning to this alternative to printed mailings.  Fine.  As a marketing strategy, it’s far from the worst.  But when it comes to private letters, I’d rather not be on the receiving or sending end.  When faced with the problem of a long overdue thank you note, I will instead take the practical, traditional route.  I’ll handwrite my own letters.  I’ll save some money, and save some peace of mind, knowing that I’m not a slave to capitalism yet. 

In the meantime, I may just apply to be a professional hand writer.  Who knows, maybe writing someone else’s words for a living is extremely fulfilling.

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