When is the last time you wrote or received a letter, a real honest-to-goodness letter? Forget the holiday epistles that become email downloads, the thank you notes and celebration invitations. I mean a letter that begins, “It’s been too long…,” “Do you know how much I have missed our time together?” or “I just finished reading your letter and I need you to know …”

In this day and age, almost everyone seems to be using electronic ink to connect, update or just “touch base.” The Internet makes miracles by finding old friends and long-lost classmates and creates almost instant networks.

Texting and twittering are becoming today’s personal ticker-tapes, utilizing, it seems, a whole new language or symbol system.

Meanwhile, the social networking sites conveniently share bits and pieces of what’s happening. Apparently, the economy of time and words has a seductiveness all its own. Problem is, something precious is fast becoming an endangered species.

Nothing is quite as special as a pesonal, hand-written letter. The connections between fingers, pen and paper are symbolic of the relationship involved. And there is something about the time invested – writing, mailing, waiting for a reply – that cannot be measured. The letter itself carries a meaning beyond what is actually written, the feel of conversation creating a unique presence in the relationship so honored.

Writing letters on the Internet – which seems to be the future of the art – requires a special and sensitive mindset to create the feeling of presence found in hand-written letters. It comes down to a matter of style, vocabulary, personal embellishments and even quirks. Finding the sense of privacy once taken-for-granted between pen and paper is essential, of course, but even more important is claiming and taking the time to create or continue a conversation between friends.

Future generations, I fear, will look upon handwritten letters as ancient artifacts from other ages. Tomorrow’s libraries will surely index the emails of the well-known and famous whose histories, like that of the world, will be at our fingertips. Between now and then, however, a good old-fashioned letter to a good old-fashioned friend might become an instant antique.