Call her old-fashioned, but a handwritten note, said Virginia Spangler Polley, is the gold standard of etiquette.
"I keep giving my 24-year-old son personalized stationery and nagging him to use it," said the Chattanooga resident. "If someone goes to the trouble to select and buy a gift for you or entertain you, you should take the time and effort to acknowledge your appreciation."
Whether they simply acknowledge a kindness or reveal deepest emotions, handwritten notes are often saved as treasured keepsakes, triggering memories of a loved one, connecting us to our past.
Yet the speed of digital communication is trumping the traditional way we communicate via the written word: sending letters through the mail. In 2010, the U.S. Postal Service reported a drop of 10 billion letters in the past 20 years, according to cnn.com.
Polley said that while communicating through emails and Facebook posts is acceptable, it is a "lazy and insufficient" way to communicate gratitude for major gifts, such as for weddings or birthdays.
"I am always excited to find a handwritten note in my mail," she said.
Receiving a handwritten letter is always better than a text, email or Facebook post, agreed Candace Davis, of Chattanooga.
"I know people love to receive them, and so do I," she said. "It gives them something to hold in their hand and re-read when necessary."
Dawn Jumper, of Chattanooga, a consultant with The Etiquette Co., said it's a good practice whether for business or pleasure.
"You will always make a good impression and stand out from the crowd with a handwritten note," she said.
Though letter-writing is not a completely lost art, it can be hard to find suitable paper in department stores.
"I went shopping for stationery and got a blank stare in Walmart," said Ed Darr.
Mariah Mayfield, owner of Shadowbox Paperie at Warehouse Row, said her store sells a lot of letter sheets, which can be personalized with the sender's name or initials. Women, she said, prefer the "social sheet," which is about 5 by 5 inches, while men like the more traditional size of 81/2 by 11 inches.
Much of the blank stock comes in soft palettes -- white, ivory, slate, blush, soft blue -- and with a choice of clean or deckle edge, but there are also designs, she said, "for customers that want something a bit more out of the box."
Deborah Bost, of Chattanooga, said she sends her 19-month-old granddaughter personal notes at least once a week. "When she's able to read, she'll have some catching up to do," Bost said, "but I hope she'll realize the importance of writing."
Donna Laster Goza, of Chattanooga, said she still has the letter her dad wrote to her after receiving news of her birth.
"He was stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C., and my mom was in Paris, Tenn., so he was unable to be there," she said. "I still cry every time I read it. It is one of my most prized possessions."
Taking the time to select a card, buy postage, write a note by hand and send it lets someone know that you are grateful, said Katie King.
"It makes me feel special to receive something handwritten in the mail," said the Chattanooga resident. "I have a drawer full of treasured letters and cards that people have sent me over the years."
Rodney Simmons, of Chattanooga, said receiving a text message or emailed note is akin to receiving a gift dropped into a handled shopping bag.
"The contents of both are appreciated, and the 'vehicles' are very convenient, but the presentation implies, 'I didn't take time to especially hand-write/hand-wrap this for you.' Indeed, beautifully handwritten correspondence -- and purposefully hand-wrapped boxed gifts -- can be gifts in themselves, conveying that someone is worth your extra time and effort."
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...