Digital Detox: (Hand)write Letters to Ourselves


A few days ago, I was at a meeting in New York and one of the hosts gave out free tote bags to all the attendees. After the last tote bag had been passed around, she joked, “I was going to give out free pencils, but then I thought, ‘Who writes with pencils these days?'”

And that got me thinking—it’s true. Technology has made it become absolutely unnecessary for us to use writing utensils for many of our daily tasks. For instance, there is no need to print forms that require a signature and scan them, because the updated Adobe Reader now lets you stamp a signature wherever you want on a PDF file. And there are weeks that go by when I don’t pick up any sort of writing tool because I’m always typing on my laptop. I don’t write out my notes for school anymore, and class quizzes are often given online. Then, when I do finally find myself gripping a pen or a pencil in my right hand for whatever reason, it feels weird. Unnatural, even. The last time I experienced this was when I had to write a thank-you note to one of my favorite professors. The Millennial inside of me thought, “What’s the purpose of writing all this out and giving it by hand? Wouldn’t it just be easier to send this by email?”

It would be easier, yes. But another part of me knew that my professor would appreciate a handwritten note much more than an email (in general, though, this really depends on the receiver). There is something about writing out your appreciation on a stiff sheet of colored paper that makes the sentiment that much more genuine and well thought-out. A handwritten note becomes a token that gets taped onto the side of a piece of office furniture.

You can’t do that with an email.

Back in high school, I used to carry my “reporter’s notebook” everywhere I went, jotting down bits and pieces of conversation from the school hallways. My closet back home is filled with old diaries, all inked up with memories and thoughts from my younger self. Back then, writing the words out always gave me more time to think over what I was writing about. I haven’t written in a diary in ages.

We’ve become so used to just going places and doing things every day without actually reflecting back our accomplishments and our next steps in whatever goals we’ve set for ourselves. Technology constantly allows us to “go” a little bit faster and do a little bit more, and as a result, we end up taking the simpler things in life—like books (not e-books—real books made out of paper)—for granted.

At the beginning of the year, I came across some old letters I’d written to myself for every year that I’ve been in college. The letter I wrote at the end of my first year in college particularly struck me. It was a letter to my future sophomore self, and I was so surprised by how comforting it was.

Dear Sophomore Wendy,

Thanks for the memories of my first year in college. Not all of them were pleasant, but something important was learned for each and every one of them. And actually—that’s why I’m here writing to you. You once told a good friend that we have three years for trial and error, and then finally that last year to get things just right. Every year of your college life should be full of progression, not repetition, from the previous semester. And then our last year should be met and lived with no regrets. Based on what I have been through, please remember…

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Give yourself a chance to bring up your opinions and beliefs. Raise your hand. Just do it. There’s no better time than now. Trust your instincts.

Say hello. The worst thing that could happen is you would have the exact same number of friends before you said hello. The best thing that could happen? You end up with one more friend than you did before.

Challenge procrastination. Challenge yourself to complete an assignment once you get it.

Get to know Carolina inside and out. Expand your knowledge of the campus, walk around and explore. Discover what it means to be a Tar Heel.

Smile. No matter what’s going on, there is always a reason to smile. Find it, mull over it, smile about it. If anything—be grateful for what you have.

There should never be an excuse to not journal. End of story.

Live in the moment. No matter where you are, what time it is and what else you have going on, focus on the present and live your life as it is at that very moment. If you constantly think about what you have to get done while you’re trying to enjoy an unforgettable college event, you’ll miss out on a whole lot. The key is focus, not only on schoolwork—but schoolwork and beyond.

Much Love,

Your Freshman Self

May 12, 2011

Looking back, I’m so glad I decided to write that letter. Even though it’s been two years since I was a sophomore, I still identify with the message, and it makes me feel incredibly nostalgic about my entire college experience. It also makes me miss writing. Not writing for class or campus publications. Writing in a journal because nobody is going to judge the grammar mistakes or give me a letter grade. Writing for fun.

This week, I’ve resolved to use my word processor less, and notebook and pen more. You can join me.

Ask yourself this: When was the last time you wrote a postcard? Crafted a letter? Sent mail, even? Why didn’t you use the internet instead, and would you have preferred to send the message online given the choice? Consider writing your answers down (or comment below).

Then, when you get a chunk of free time this weekend (make time in the early morning if you’re going to be busy during the day), write a letter to yourself. It could be a letter to the person you hope to be in the future, the person you once were, or the person you are now. Write what makes sense to you. Do it on paper.

“Digital Detox” is a weekly series curated by writer and curriculum developer Wendy Lu. Every Friday, we want to inspire you with content that focuses on disconnecting from technology and rekindling a human connection. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #digitaldetox on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

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