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Put Away Your Phone and Put Pen to Paper

By Siriol Dafydd on October 1, 2019 in News

Richard (centre) with St Anthony’s students Ella, Oliver, Grace and Edgar.
All the children are from St Anthonys Clovelly, by Samara Sanchez.

I’m genuinely surprised that there aren’t more accidents and general chaos as a result of our ridiculous dependency on mobile phones. Whether you’re on a bus, at the pub or walking down the street, you’re guaranteed to see someone glued to their device as if it were about to conjure up a million dollars, a lifetime’s supply of Tim Tams and the doorway to Narnia.
Author and Coogee resident Richard Simpkin is also concerned about our overuse of mobile devices and is doing his part by encouraging people to step away from social media and go old school by writing letters.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, letters were communication devices used in the pre-Facebook era. People expressed feelings by pressing a small apparatus called a pen against a flat sheet of compressed trees and sent the end product to a fellow human by postal service. Kind of like a status update, but for people who actually give a stuff about your life.
Richard has long been fascinated by letter writing but when his son, Oliver, was born in 2012 he began thinking about his childhood spent writing to pen pals. He remembered how much he looked forward to opening the mailbox and seeing a letter addressed to him. He realised that Oliver would never get to enjoy that experience. Without action, the art of letter writing ran the risk of following in the footsteps of the Dodo and the concept of eating a meal without first taking a photo of it.
So, in 2014, Richard launched World Letter Writing Day with a workshop at Waverley College. Parents, teachers and students were thrilled with the results and after attracting the interest of local radio, Richard heard from countless people who said they missed writing and receiving letters. He knew then that he was onto something special.
Five years later, people all over the world celebrate World Letter Writing Day on September 1. With Twitter endorsements from the likes of The Roger Federer Foundation and over 11,500 followers on Facebook, it’s growing rapidly. But Richard isn’t stopping and still hosts workshops at local schools to encourage kids to write letters.
Writing reduces stress, improves focus, increases creativity and helps with anxiety. It’s also a way to process feelings and deal with trauma. Richard witnessed this first hand when he received a letter from an 11-year-old boy addressed: ‘To God – Heaven’. The little girl next to him explained that it was a letter to his mother who had passed away. A few weeks later, the boy’s teacher informed Richard that he had never spoken about his mum before but, since the workshop, he now writes regular letters to her in Heaven. This touching story proves that something as simple as writing a letter can have a positive and lasting impact on a child.
“I feel a great sense of pride that so many people in Australia and around the world are now writing letters again, and they are really enjoying it. It’s also helping kids with Social Media Anxiety which is a global epidemic,” Mr Simpkin told The Beast.
Richard currently volunteers his time and finances to keep World Letter Writing Day alive. But naturally, that’s not sustainable long-term. If you’d like to see more people taking a break from their smartphones and connecting with other humans, you can help by writing to your local MPs, councils, schools and businesses and urging them to lend their support. After all, any activity that gets a child away from an iPad incessantly playing ‘Baby Shark’ is time well spent.