Monday, February 13, 2012

Influence through Letters

After reading “FDR and the White House Mail” by Sussmann, I couldn't help but think about how technology has lost the true art of letter writing. When Roosevelt was in office, it was expected that each letter received an individual and thoughtful response. This way, the recipient knew that their thoughts or concerns were taken seriously, as well as providing the recipients a piece of history their families may cherish and pass on for generations.

Even though his office received thousands of pieces of mail each week, including his first week with 450,000 pieces from the public, FDR and his staff read each piece. The public letters provided talking points in speeches and fireside chats, as well as assisted FDR and his staff the ability to see what was of interest to the masses.

Technology has shifted how politicians keep the pulse of the general publics issues of concern. Now, we turn to social media and the Internet to see what is current and relevant. However, I believe these mediums have reduced the value of communication between people. Think of how much it means when someone from 7th grade writes “Happy Birthday” on your Facebook page, but when you received an actual card or note in the mail, you feel special. That is the same feeling FDR wanted to evoke in those who sent him letters.

Do you think the shift in mass communication with the use of technology; is a good thing or bad thing? Do messages you receive or transmit have as much thought?


  1. Hi Kelli,

    I definitely agree that letters from political leaders are often passed through the generations. I remember, as a child, enjoying looking at my grandfather's framed letters from presidential candidates that he had hung on the wall in the basement. Today, no one would print off a tweet received from a politician to pass along to the family. Instead, the communication would get lost among the thousands of tweets.

    However, the positive to this new digital communication is that it more effectively connects politicians to the masses. Communicating with a politician on facebook or twitter is much easier and faster. You can expect a response within a day. While old letters were significant in more of a party or America pride aspect, digital communication is significant because constituents can share their view directly and immediately with their representative. More simply, digital communication is more confrontational.

  2. Kelli & Frances -- Quaint as it is, the President has actually been responding to letters, though not nearly as many as FDR (see here: There are certain things to be said after writing mail -- I make a strong effort to send real notes.

    One issue for hot debate in advice columns and etiquette books is how to send thank you notes -- whether a hand written not is required or if an email will suffice. (Here is Emily Post's take: Most people send to err on the side of most polite and send an actual thank you note.

    Here's my favorite set of rules for thank you notes: