In my old paper files, pre-1983, I have some artifacts not seen much since: genuine carbon copies. For those younger than 40, that little abbreviation of cc, ever-present in email options, may only be a computer field for copying someone. But for those of us who used typewriters, we remember actual carbon copies: those often smudged and shadowy paper copies of our originals.
In the mid-1980s, when the personal computer arrived on the scene, it became as easy to print two copies as one. The once-ubiquitous carbon paper—that tissue-thin, inky paper you’d insert between two sheets of paper—began its slide into obscurity.
Not that I care. I miss the old carbon paper about as much as I miss leaded gas and powdered milk.
But today there’s a new carbon paper—of sorts. It’s called your smartphone.
Sharing a letter through a snapshot
Today most correspondence takes place virtually, through email, electronic greeting cards, Facebook and its kin. But still there are times when many of us want to connect on a more physical level, putting pen to paper and paper in hands. Happily, digital technology can now help us gain more from our heritage technologies of paper and ink, and savor them in new ways. Lately I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a picture on my iPhone of my handwritten notes before I seal them in an envelope. I arrange a little still life, with the addressed envelope, the note itself, my pen, and whatever else nearby catches my eye. I create a montage of the moment, a snapshot of my letter just before it begins its physical journey to its destiny.
Later, if I hear from the recipient that he or she enjoyed the card, I can call up my photo from my pocket and revisit with accuracy what I wrote, and zoom in to see whether I signed off with “Yours” or “Your fan” or “Love.”At other times, the letter deserves to be shared with a mutual friend so that three of us can enjoy a moment.
The digital carbon copies on my smartphone allow me this rewarding ritual in my life and set in motion a positive feedback loop that has resulted in my hand-writing more notes, and with more enthusiasm.
In a switch, I’ve also taken photos of cards I’ve received to share with others. For example, we received a sweet little thank-you for a donation that my father made in person to a small library in Florida. I sent the photo to my father just moments after I opened the letter in my office. My father enjoyed it moments later.
A picture that’s worth its words
Last year, in response to my blog on the satisfaction of forcing your mind to recall trivia rather than Googling, I received a most unusual gift.
I had used the example of not being able to remember the name of a particular actor. In a show of remarkable generosity, one of the readers of that blog, the autograph dealer Ron Weeks, sent me a photograph of the actor, Alec Guinness, along with his signature—both beautifully matted in blue and ready for framing. I decided to send Ron our book on Thoreau in return.
Before I sent Ron the book and my note, I took this photo on my phone:
In this one photo are both gifts and both letters—far beyond the carbon-paper capabilities of yore.
Creating an artful photo is layering art upon art, and can become a rewarding ritual in itself.
Have I inspired you to take carbon-copy photos of your handwritten notes? If so, please post your photo to our Facebook page and the rewards might multiply.
And if you’re inspired to send an actual handwritten card to me, I’ll write back. But before I drop my return letter in the post office box, I’ll shoot a photo of our correspondence.
I look forward to reading, and viewing, your notes very soon.
420 S. Congress Avenue
Delray Beach, FL 33445