It is hard to imagine who would write a letter with only nineteen words. For those of you who have never written an actual letter, there are a lot of logistics that go into this particular habit. For one, you have to take out a physical piece of paper and a writing implement like a pencil or (more likely) a pen, and then you have to write a letter to someone, while only using nineteen words. Considering the fact that many of us like to date our letters, address them Dear So-and-so, and add some sort of closing like Sincerely, [insert name of poor letter writer here], the mere formalities of writing in the genre of letter would appear to take up at least seven to ten words on its own, apart from any contents itself. And who can imagine putting pen to paper to write only ten words or less. Sometimes I cannot even end a good sentence without going a good fifty words into it, though occasionally even a writer as fluent as I am can at least settle for maybe ten words or so with only one subordinate phrase or qualification to make to the main statement. It seems hard that someone would physically write a letter of only nineteen words, and then fold the paper and put it into an envelope and spend something like 50 cents or so for a stamp on it to wait for it to get to the recipient in a couple days or even a week.
To be sure, it is not hard at all to imagine an e-mail with only nineteen words. In fact, if I had to guess based on my surprisingly laconic e-mail writing habits, I would venture a guess that the vast majority of my own e-mails are far fewer in length than nineteen words. In fact, given the way that my e-mail responses tend to be far shorter and more terse than any other sort of writing that I do, if someone received an e-mail for me that was nineteen words long it would be the sign of my wanting to write something very long (at least for an e-mail). Why is this the case? What is it that makes an e-mail so terse while letters tend to be far longer. In previous days, when people still wrote letters to each other and had some idea of the etiquette involved in them, people would write all through an envelope, beg their relatives to frank for their postage, and even write multiple lines of text at angles from each other to cram as much possible written material into a letter given the expense of sending even one letter into the great unknown to one’s recipient to be brought by some wandering boat or a chaise and four traveling through an area. If it were not for the large quantity of books that I receive through the mail I would have little reason to know or care about my local postman, who is a nice enough person to smile at me when I cross paths with him, usually on the Sabbath when I stop to pick up the mail on my way to the car to head off for choir practice or something of that nature.
There are likely a great many reasons for the difference in conduct between the writing of a letter or the writing of an e-mail. When we write a letter, we know that the recipient is not going to be able to receive the message immediately so the time pressure that some of us feel when faced with an e-mail that requires an answer is greatly lessened. As someone who spends a great deal of my free time writing longform essays like this one, I do not feel I have the time to send someone a lengthy personal missive unless it is absolutely required, and generally speaking I find some excuse of turning what would be a long e-mail into a longer (but more public) essay that allows me to express my thoughts to not only the specific sender but others as well. Generally speaking, people who write e-mails may be judged as being at least somewhat impatient in receiving a reply, and unless I do not wish to reply to the message or do not know exactly what to say immediately, I will tend to fire off a reply quickly so as to gratify the impatience of the person who sent me the message, simply because there are too many other things to do at the same level of urgency.
I do not know if others feel the same way. To be sure, I have received occasionally quite lengthy e-mail messages from others, but it has not always been apparent that the length of time that was obviously spent in writing the message has been matched by an awareness of how I am likely to receive the message that is sent. But the same has been true of me; I have spent a great deal of time crafting some messages and seeking to pick the precise words to express what I want to say and not sufficient time thinking about the way the recipient would think or feel about such words. If I am a rather prickly reader of messages despite being a fierce and occasionally blunt writer, whose native prickliness is at least somewhat moderated by my own self-awareness that as a writer of harsh words that occasionally it would make sense that I am to be a gracious reader of them, it is easier to understand that others whose self-awareness does not act against their shock and alarm at the words that I write would have reason to be alarmed at some of the things that I have occasionally written them. Alas, we tend to know our own hearts and minds far more than we know the minds of the people who receive our messages, all of which encourages us to be even more terse when we are writing messages to people who could very easily send or forward them onto others, something that used to be frowned upon and which allowed the sort of candor that contemporary communication frequently lacks.