Letters vs. E-mails

Da Vince's Air Screw

da Vinci’s Air Screw

I plan to stop writing biographies as soon as the necessary background research takes me from old letters stored in archives to e-mails stored goodness knows where. I get nightmares thinking about researching e-mails and, frankly, I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. So I’ll continue to write about people long-gone who tended to pick up a pen and write stories/letters/journals or even notes on the back of scraps of paper. Preferably with a fountain pen.

But I do worry about future biographers. When contemporary figures become long-gone, it will take a far different kind of research to “find” them. It was reassuring to know that there are people paying attention to this ongoing transition. If you are a worried biographer of the fountain pen set or an excited biographer of the e-mail set, you might want to check out the NPR piece, “For Biographers, the Past is an Open (Electronic) Book.

Letter-writing subjects will always be with us so I won’t be out of a job anytime soon. But there are plenty of people in the electronic age we don’t want to lose simply because we can’t access the material that reveals them to us.