The new epistolary culture


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Anybody here read Jane Austen‘s novels? You know the woman who wrote novels that inspired movies like Bride & Prejudice that Aishwarya Rai acted in? You haven’t seen the movie? I haven’t either. But you surely have read those novesl? No? Please go over to and download the free etext/audio books and read/listen to them or buy the books from anywhere, Landmark/Crossword/favorite bookstore/footpath. Its all public domain and you can download them with impunity, if you had any. Without fearing any piracy implications. Her books are more than 70 years old and/or she died 60 years ago or any other such law of a country that provides them copyrights.

But wait, this post is not about public domain books, though I would like to ramble on about Project Gutenberg that contains more than 33,000 free ebooks (you got to go there to read all public domain books, meaning all the classics).

This post is about the epistolary culture.

Did you just go, “Eh? Whats an epistolary culture?” like me when I first came across that in this brilliantly written post, though quite misleadingly titled “Intimacy as text, Twitter as tongue“?

The word “Epistolary” comes from the Spanish word “Epistola” which means a letter. So an Epistolary culture means a culture that relied heavily on letters. Like the ones depicted in Jane Austen’s novels. Where the characters would write very intimate letters with extreme emotion to each other but would find it very awkward when meeting in real life (as we geeks like to say, IRL) in social settings thanks to the etiquettes of 18th/19th century.

So why am I, a FLOSS/social CRM geek writing about literature all of a sudden? And an epistolary culture?

Because, my friends, I loved classical literature during my early teens. But no, wait. Thats nearly 20 years ago. Why am I writing about them now?

Ok. Seriously (& truthfully) how many of you have had pen friends? You know who pen friends are? They are friends from distant places whom we have not met (nor could you dream of meeting for the most part) but with whom we correspond via letters.

I had one, though it did not blossom well, thanks to the break up of the USSR. I had found my pen friend there thanks to a children’s magazine from the erstwhile USSR many of you would not even know – Misha (if you are aware of it, you get a brownie point, but if you actually are a fan of it even now, I will friend you without a blink).

Pen friends are cherished memories of a bygone era. We lament its loss thanks to the technologies taking over and the permeance of the rat race in our lives. We do not write letters to our grandparents, cousins, etc. We don’t anxiously wait for the postman any more. Do you even know who the postman is for your area?

This Op-Ed column in New York Times called “Tweet less, Kiss more” asks you to be more physically grounded and enjoy the trip rather than talking on the cellphone while driving.

But did we really lose the epistolary culture? Keeping in touch with friends and relatives far away? Or the other related literary habit of writing daily diaries, usually confessional?

The post I refered to earlier has this to say:

For all the internet’s much-noted permissiveness and available pornography, the increasing presence of computers in our private lives enables a new, overwhelming prudishness — something akin to a second age of letters.

Internet socialization is far closer to a 19th century mode of intimacy than to a dystopian future of tragically disconnected robot prostitutes. There’s a Jane Austen-ish quality to online social life. The written word gains unmatched power and inarguable primacy.

So is it a horrible thing? Losing physical relationship to the power of the written word? Should I just come and shake your hands and talk to you rather than write this blog post? Would I have had the opportunity of knowing so many of you so intimately if I did it all in the physical world?

Well, if you must give up technology, please, by all means use a paper and pen to write out your tweets. Wall Street Journal has written an article on how you could do that! 😉

And may be kissing is not always a good idea either as these girls in this TV ad from an online dating service tell you!

Blog, tweet or kiss – its all about the social animal’s need to be in touch with the others of the species.

No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.

— John Donne, Devotions (1624)

So how do you look at it? Personally and from a business perspective? Do let us know in the comments.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


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