It is an honour to be the recipient of the first entry in what I hope will become a long series of digital letters, a reinvigoration of online conversation, rather than the exchange of only the briefest of thoughts and comments. That we, and Alan Williamson with us, share much of the feelings on the current state of the exchange of ideas on the internet suggests to me at most that there is something amiss in our little corner of the web—games, philosophy, history—and what we want from it. To assume everyone harbours the same misgivings feels a bit presumptive, though I could be wrong. In the end, we’re mainly responsible for our own communities anyway, so whether the problems we are seeing are universal across the internet or not is of little importance.
To get down to it, though, I think your analysis is correct. Blogs don’t seem to have the momentum they once had, and many other online forms of communication are either too private (email, instant messaging) our too massive and brief (Twitter). The platforms that do allow longer posts (forums, Facebook, Tumblr) tend to compromise their potential for conversation with mechanisms of competition, popularity, and power.
As such, I share Alan’s and your enthusiasm for the form of the letter—the public letter, that is. It combines the personal nature and urgency of directly addressing someone with the possibility of igniting a wider conversation with additional correspondents. However, perhaps the reason why we have to reinvigorate the format in the first place is that a letter requires non-trivial effort on our part. Unlike social media, which lure us into a false sense of contentedness by radically facilitating shallow mini-conversations, letters require us to sit down and formulate our thoughts at length, and to actively reflect on our own lives and that of the addressee.
The gain is very concrete, though. I believe that anything we put real effort into acquires a spark of energy or emotion, and that others will be able to appreciate that. Of course, this is possible in any medium in theory, but where is it more likely to happen? In a medium that discourages effort by rewarding speed and easy digestion, or a medium that shifts some of the burden of time and effort to us? The final draft of this letter will be hand-written using pens, ink, and notebooks that I have received as gifts from my wife and my mother. They have been gathering dust in a display case over the years, empty decorations in a life that has been more about reading from paper than about writing on it. Perhaps that will change.
I think we are in agreement that we’d like to see a modern-day ‘republic of letters’, with blogs instead of stationery, and social media instead of envelopes, stamps, and mail. From now on, then, we can dispense with meta-letters and return to our other interests. Maybe some recent games that tickled our brains and/or hearts? Our perhaps the endlessly fascinating concept of Chaos? You know I’d love to exchange ideas with you on that, and your ethical implementation of the concept.
Until then, I wish you and yours all the best for the coming Winter.
While it is addressed to a specific person, anyone who is interested in replying is free to do so and join the conversation, as explained by Chris in his original letter.
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