DEAR MISS MANNERS: I very strongly feel you are remiss to insist that manners or custom dictate that a card or handwritten note be the “acceptable” and “appropriate” way to express condolences. What happens if, in the near future, paper ceases to exist? In a world without paper, would everyone be violating “manners” because no one can offer a card or written correspondence to express sympathy?
Paper has not existed since the beginning of human interaction. Certainly human emotions and interactions have existed much longer, and are the primary drivers for dialogue; thus the sentiment, not the mechanism, is the important piece. Manners are not predicated on the mechanism by which the message is delivered. No one is shouting across a busy train station to say “SORRY!”
While, in a perfect world, individuals would take the mannerisms of the recipient into account and adjust accordingly, you shortchange and diminish the thoughts, feelings and well-intentioned attempt to reach out with a sympathetic response by putting forth that an email is “not enough.” If my emails expressing shared happiness, condolences or any other emotion are “not enough,” perhaps it is on the recipient to be more receptive of those who intend goodwill.
GENTLE READER: While it is true that paper has only existed since about the year 100 (and papyrus since 3000 B.C.), it still has its uses. You have a printer, don’t you? And the death of the book was heralded some time ago, but it turns out that a surprising number of people prefer to read books on paper instead of on screens.
Surely you do not expect Miss Manners to deny that it is the message itself that is important. But that argument is like saying it doesn’t matter if you wear your gym clothes to a wedding, as long as you genuinely wish the couple well.
Thoughtful condolence letters mean a great deal to the bereaved. As appreciations of the deceased and expressions of compassion, they are often treasured and kept, rather than read and deleted.
You could point out that in that case, the recipients could print them out, keeping the words, if not the immediacy of handwriting. But, then, that would involve using paper, wouldn’t it?