As holiday shoppers browse the handmade notecards out front, a group assembles in the back of a bright, old-fashioned letterpress shop near Harvard University. The dozen strangers, from their 20s to their 50s, drag stools to the edges of two big classroom-style tables, conspicuously put aside their phones, and then — fueled with passionfruit-flavored spring water — start practicing their penmanship.
Organized by a three-year-old company called Sip & Script, this 90-minute class is part of a slow but sure revival of handwritten communication, a resolute response to the impersonal nature of emails, texts, and online holiday messages and birthday greetings. “It has so much more meaning when it comes in handwriting,” says the instructor, a former elementary school teacher named Jessica Glazier, as her charges bend over their tracing paper. “We’re trying to bring that back, a little at a time.”
They’re not the only ones, as yet another discarded relic from a forgotten age is brought back, dusted off, gussied up, and imbued with a newfound sense of purpose. Letter Writers Alliance, a league of letter-writers, now boasts 15,000 members. Arizona and North Carolina have returned to requiring that elementary school students learn cursive. Crane Stationery is promoting that celebrities, including Tom Brady and Jimmy Fallon, write personal notes by hand. There are monthly get-togethers in a bar in Brooklyn, called Pints & Postage nights, at which stationery is laid out for patrons to send handwritten messages; they may feel inclined to mail off a note wishing friends and family a happy National Handwriting Day on January 23.
What’s the appeal? Handwriting “is very precious to people,” says Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of the etiquette authority Emily Post. “I still want to see my best friend’s loopy handwriting on a card. It’s so much more meaningful than a text message. And I think we put an even higher premium on it in the age of everything digital.”
Handwriting is about “the fuzzy feeling you get when you realize that someone actually sat down and thought of you, or when you write something for yourself.”
“It’s like going for long walks and eating your vegetables,” says Post, who is also co-president of the Emily Post Institute and cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. “There’s a kind of sense that it’s good, it makes you feel good, and it’s a good skill to have.”
Renewed interest in handwriting “is the pendulum swing,” says Sarah Madges, a nonfiction writer and head of projects of the website Handwritten, which is devoted to examples of, and essays about, writing by hand. “We got so far into digital technology without thinking about how it would feel to let go of this thing that was such a part of people’s lives,” she says. “It doesn’t feel the same to get an email as it does to open a letter. You see someone’s personality in a handwritten letter. It feels like it’s just for you. And people want that back.”
So much that marketers and consumers pay companies including Bond, Letterly, and Postalgia to mass-produce notes that appear handwritten. “Handwritten by robots,” Postalgia boasts, without apparent irony. There’s also been a resurgence of cursive-style font in packaging and advertising for big conglomerates that are trying to seem personal and authentic.
They’re missing the point, says Donovan Beeson, co-founder of the 15,000-member Letter Writers Alliance, which encourages handwriting. “What people are looking for, in all aspects of their lives, is authenticity in things,” says Beeson. Handwriting is about “the fuzzy feeling you get when you realize that someone actually sat down and thought of you, or when you write something for yourself,” Julie Mancini, Sip & Script’s co-founder, says.