Are the Arts of Snail Mail and Penpalling Dying?

Updated on July 26, 2017

The different kinds of writing paper you can get.


How we corresponded before the Internet.

I have been pen-palling for around 25 years now. It all started back in the early 90s when I met one of my late husband's nieces and she was telling me she has pen-pals all around the world. This piqued my interest and asked her how she got started. She handed me something called a Friendship Book. This is a small booklet made by people and posted on to the next pen-pal to fill in with his/her name and address. When the Friendship book is full, it gets sent back to the person who first made it. So when I started filling these books in, I started getting letters through the post.

Since then I have attained many pen-pals around the world, some I have had for more than 20 years now. I have met some pen-pals, and have made some good friends from when I first started letter writing. But since then computers, the Internet and most importantly, social media, seems to have over taken this. I have heard reports in the past where Royal Mail have said there is a decline in people sending letters and correspondence over the years due to the Internet and emails. I think this a shame, and writing a letter to someone is so much more personal, isn't it? There's nothing like putting pen to paper and hand writing a letter to someone. Some of the letters I get through the post are really nice too with pretty stickers all over the envelope and nicely coloured writing paper with pictures and stickers on them.

Of course there is the extra expense of posting a letter, especially if it's overseas. I have pen-pals in the USA, Australia, Germany, Austria and Japan. But what I like about this is that you get to see the lovely stamps from some of these Countries. This has got me into stamp collecting, and I cut the stamp carefully from the envelop and place it in my stamp album. But the cost of a stamp is well worth the money when I get lovely letters back in return. Yes, the Friendship Books I mentioned have declined dramatically. I think because the world and his wife are on Facebook now, it's easier to keep in touch on there. I'm also in a couple of pen-pal Groups on Facebook, so it is still a popular hobby. But not as much as it used to be.

I've still got about 40 pen-pals, but this number has dropped a lot over the years. I know I used to have a lot more than that. I like to look round the charity and second hand shops for pretty writing sets and paper to write on. And my Postman has commented that I am the most popular address on the street for receiving letters. It made me smile when he said that.

Mobile phone usage

The instant communication is hampering writing letters.
The instant communication is hampering writing letters.

The birth of social media and mobile phones

It annoys me when I see people walking down the street, or in restaurants with their heads in the phones. It's all I ever tend to see when I'm out, especially in the younger generation. There are a number of reasons why this angers me. Not only does it stop people from communication face-to-face, but I also think it hampers peoples writing skills. When you're texting or messaging something, a lot of words and sentences are abbreviated, and this becomes habit. I really do think it hampers peoples spelling and grammar. I've come across a lot of people who can't even spell basic words correctly. The art of writing a letter doesn't seem to be in every day life anymore. And this does sadden me.

I was once out for a meal with my brother and on the next table sat 3 teenagers. All of them had their heads in there phones. None of them were talking or making conversation or engaging with each other. Is this how society is nowadays? I know that the Internet and social media plays a big part in every day lives now, but I think it's still nice to receive a handwritten letter through the letterbox sometimes.

I remember when there used to be 2 postal deliveries a day where I live. But now there's just the 1. And a lot of Post Offices have closed in recent years too, which saddens me. It's especially hard in the villages when you've got elderly people that rely on such services. I am in a couple of groups on Facebook where people are still looking for snail mail pen-pals, which I like. So it's still popular, but I do wish handwritten letters on a whole would become common practice again.

Is writing letters dead or alive?

Do you, or have you ever had penpals?

See results


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    • Coffeequeeen profile imageAUTHOR

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      Hi Poppy. Thanks for your comment. No, I've not heard of grammar Nazi, but I see what you mean about technology and grammar. Thanks for telling me about Kanji, I've never heard of that before.

    • poppyr profile image


      2 years ago from Enoshima, Japan

      Some good points here. Emails and social media do seem to be taking over physical letters, as it’s convenient and quick. After all, an email takes five seconds to send when a letter can take several weeks if the recipient is in a different country.

      I actually had pen pals in Japan in 2007-2009 when I was a teenager. It was a lot of fun getting exotic stamps, as you mentioned in your article.

      I don’t think phones and technology are hindering our grammar and spelling. People are very anal about that sort of thing on the Internet; have you heard of the term “grammar Nazi”?

      That being said, here in Japan, people are worried that the younger generation can not write kanji, the complicated Chinese characters, anymore because we don’t need to. Many people my age and even older can read kanji but cannot write it because they don’t need to. Technology is marvelous, but of course there are prices we have to pay.

    • profile image

      pen promulgates 

      2 years ago

      Louise, your hub is excellent. Very touching.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I think snail mail is very underrated, but to be honest, birthday cards are the only thing I really send now.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      2 years ago from Brazil

      I used to have a couple of pen pals and often wrote to my cousin. We would put sealing wax on the back as if our letters contained something extremely important. LOL

      I recently wrote to a couple of friends from high school as I couldn't find them on social media sites. One responded and now we are in contact after nearly 40 years.

      I am ashamed to say my handwriting is awful so I would prefer to type it out and print it off.

      I've met a couple here in Brazil who had been pen pals when they were young. She is Brazilian and he is German. They met after writing each other for some time and got married. Isn't that a wonderful way to start a relationship?

      Sadly I think this way of communicating will die out. Reading a text message isn't like holding a letter in your hands. A letter shows much more thought and commitment. I truly hope we aren't the last generation to experience this.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      3 years ago

      I am one of the last living dinosaurs still around. I love to send letters to people even though I never got to enjoy the art of having pen pals. Growing up girls had pen pals guys didn't. At least with the people I hung around with. Later I heard prisoners would send letters to you if you wrote to them. My family talked me out of it saying as soon as someone gets your address they will find all about you and they could destroy your life or look for you if they get out of prison and depending what you said could take offense to any little thing. Even though I thought it would help them in their darkest hour and help them get through the day. Maybe rethink their thought process. Then I was going to write to mass murders just because they never are getting out of prison. Once again I was talked out of it and said nobody in their right mind would do this. I have heard of people writing to soldiers in the service but I never heard of how to actually do it. When the internet and face book came very popular I wanted to Face Book the world. Then my family once again said you can't do it. It is a different world today. I have treasured post cards that I received as a kid from my aunts and uncles. Now they all have past away. I have found a few letters and post cards at flea markets from strangers I never knew. I thought it was so wonderful. Today everyone just drops an email and it is quicker and cheaper. I still would one day love to have a few pen pals if anyone is still interested in writing letters. I am fifty years behind the times but I have waited long enough. Even if it is only a letter a month that would be something. I stumbled upon HubPages accidentally and have been writing here ever since. Many people have come and gone without saying good bye. I often wondered how and why someone would do that when I thought we have become such great friends. I use to cut off the stamps from my mothers mail and wanted to collect stamps from junk mail all around the country. Once again that never happened. So many ideas and lack of interest and desire by so many others I fell short. There is something to be said about a letter that you took the time and energy to sit down and write. You go out of your way to mail the letter and now wait for a response. Thank you for your wonderful hub and all the memories it triggered. Have a great day and if you are interested in a new pen pal please let me know. I could say a lot more on the subject but I was told to keep my thoughts brief and my comments even smaller. So I don't scare away the few friends I make.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I, too, had penpals when I was in high school and had met some of them. I suppose we need to move on but I am sad to see families in restaurants all looking at their phones and not talking at all.

    • profile image

      Emma Mary 1 

      3 years ago

      I used to have five penpals in the US, the Netherlands and the Uk but all have stopped writing. One because sadly her eyesight was failing, one asked me to write email instead, and the other three just stopped writing altogether :( I miss getting letters in the mail!

      If you ever want another penpal I'd be really happy!!!

      My family went out for a meal the other day and the family next to us were all on their phones too!

      Our postal service has changed too, now we get mail once every second day.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      3 years ago from Essex, UK

      I couldn't agree more about the demise of 'snail-mail'. And not only letters, but also postcards. I'm a bit of a hoarder and I still have letters and cards which I received as a child more than 40 years ago.

      E-mail and Facebook certainly have a value for instant communication and the ability to reach hundreds of people with a single post, but they lack the sentimental appeal of a handwritten letter or card. Somehow I can't imagine keeping my electronic messages for another 40 years! :)

      Your second section on mobile phones touches a raw nerve. I've sat in staff rooms or train carriages and literally everyone else has been so engrossed in staring at their little tiny phone screens, I swear they wouldn't have noticed if the whole world was coming to an end around them!

    • kiddiecreations profile image

      Nicole K 

      3 years ago

      Thank you for the interesting hub. It is sad that postage costs so much nowadays that it sometimes hinders the desire to send snail mail. My husband and I like to correspond with our friends on the East Coast and some family members, as well. We both love mail. Getting a letter or package in the mail is so much more exciting than getting an email or text. Maybe it's because it's hand-written and there seems to be more thought behind it.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Louise, I always had pen friends as a child and young adult and always eagerly awaited receiving the letters in the mail. Like you it saddens me to see everyone with their head buried in phones nowadays instead of communicating verbally in person. I only use my phone to make phone calls and know I am in the minority.

      Our postal service have stated they lose money on letter delivery so have cut back the number of days that letters are delivered unless you pay for an extra service. Also, I have read that many schools have stopped teaching cursive writing and children are now only being taught to print. That is sad.

      Anyway I enjoyed this article.


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