Pulp Magic

APRIL 23, 2015

The Power of Pen on Paper

This year our annual report is a little different . . . it’s handwritten. We used a team of artists and calligraphers from Polygraph in Washington, D.C. to create a pen and paper proof of the report that was then reproduced in a limited print run.

The effect is lovely in the sense that it communicates on an emotional level . . . a human connection that feels strangely unfamiliar in digital times.

Handwritten communication has been on a slow decline for decades. According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987.

“Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It’s disappearing,” the comedian and actor Steve Carrell recently observed with regret. “My mom is the only one who still writes letters. And there’s something visceral about opening a letter — I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting.”

It’s gotten so bad that the Finns have decided to stop teaching handwriting in school altogether. We’ve come a long way from the days when a mother would write 3,700 letters to her daughter as Queen Victoria did. My mother was only slightly less prolific.

And we can’t entirely blame the fast pace of modern life for the lack of handwritten communications. Napoleon managed to write about 10 letters a day even while he was conquering most of Europe.

But think of the missed opportunity handwriting on paper represents. A handwritten communication packs a bigger punch today because it’s so unexpected. If you received 2,000 emails and one written letter, which would you read first? According to the Direct Marketing Association a personalized communication can lift response rates by 30-50%. And if that doesn’t convince you of the benefits of handwriting there is even some research that suggests the act of writing your thoughts on paper makes you smarter.

There’s simply no substitute for the tactile qualities of paper on a desk and a pen in your hand. John Steinbeck knew this mystical sensation. “Here is a strange thing — almost like a secret,” he wrote in his book, Working Days. “You start out putting words down and there are three things — you, the pen, and the page. Then gradually the three things merge until they are all one and you feel about the page as you do about your arm. Only you love it more than you love your arm.”

We’ve almost forgotten the power of pen on paper . . . but just almost. There is a rediscovery taking place, ironically, with the help of digital technology. Just as we were able to duplicate our handwritten annual report with sophisticated graphic technology, so too others who appreciate the impact of handwriting are able to scale their efforts. There’s even a company called Bond that offers a way to transfer your digital communications into written letters with a computer and printer than can learn to write in your own handwriting.

I’m not sure if automated handwriting is a solution or just another problem but what I am sure of is that you’ll like the 2014 Paper and Packaging Board Annual Report. You can find it here.