Love Notes By Text and Tweet

Why the sweetest part of romance might soon be forgotten

One of the coolest things anyone ever gave me was a type-written manuscript of a letter Ernest Hemingway wrote in his later years to one of his old childhood friends. A buddy of mine managed to snag me the manuscript years ago from a reading in Petoskey, Michigan—a reading by the friend of Hemingway’s, the recipient of the letters. (She reminded him of his wife, he wrote—both were like fine racehorses, he elaborated, or like geese flying south for the winter. It just kills me.)

He’d have been an excellent texter and Tweeter, Hemingway, what with the whole brevity thing—but we’d probably have never known. Those media are so fleeting, after all. Until now, all of history—and our understanding of everyone in history, from famous expatriate writers to dirt-poor Dust Bowl farmers—has always been about pen on paper. What we know about life and the people who lived it involved reading what they’d written, from the banal weather reports to their important revelations. Every honest glimpse into someone’s life helped us understand about that life, that time and that person’s history—which is also, of course, our history.

Right now, I have 227 texts on my phone from my fiancé. They are our love letters. They are short, but I don’t erase them, because—even though neither one of us is any sort of Hemingway—to me, they are sweetly worded and perfect and I want to keep them forever. I won’t, though. One day my inbox will be full or my phone will break, and I will lose them, and then neither history nor I will have the written proof that yes, the man who writes to me writes beautifully and yes, we were moved to say lovely things, every day.

I wonder: Will I remember what they said? Will I recall how much I loved them? Will I one day tell people about the notes he sent me, rather than taking down a box of notes, like the one my grandmother showed me? (Those notes, by the way, showed me who my grandfather was in a way I’d have never guessed.)

I read something from Penn State, which has its own collection of Hemingway’s private letters, that said it best: Only such honest, personal things as letters can “provide an especially intimate view of the man behind the mystique.”

I wonder if future generations will ever find the intimacy of our lives, since our world—where we try to be droll in 140 characters, where we’ve deleted the photos we didn’t like, where moment-to-moment thoughts get erased, where Facebook shows snapshots of smiling faces and banal complaints about Monday mornings and long lines at the oil-change place—isn’t concerned with posterity, or even an honest portrayal of ourselves for ourselves.

Will they know who were were, or will the Age of Informatics actually be the Dark Ages when it comes to real knowledge about who were are?