Reasons for keeping the physical missives

After going through all the items I had retained, categorising the reasons why I had kept each one, and then refining the reasons, the following 12 categories of reasons for keeping physical missives emerged:

  • Amusing content
  • Interesting information
  • Last missive before losing touch
  • Last missive from a dead friend
  • Photo or picture of interest
  • Prestigious person, connection or event
  • Pride in child’s development
  • Reminder of something
  • Significant event in my life
  • Significant event in the life of the writer
  • Unusual construction
  • Unusual or special content

Of course this isn’t a definitive list since it is based only on a single individual’s very quick analysis of a relatively small sample of letters. However, it is indicative.

I have previously identified reasons for keeping the physical versions of work items, though I didn’t consult that list in this exercise and had forgotten its detailed content. So, now is the time to compare the two – I suspect they are going to be very different. The other list is as follows:

  • Digitisation to be performed later
  • Items to be put to work in their original form
  • Items for which only the originals confirm their validity
  • Trophy items to be collected and enjoyed in the future
  • Large documents which have particular qualities of impact and integrity
  • Publications with fixed spine bindings and/or special papers
  • Publications which mention friends, colleagues or the Owner
  • Items published by an organisation or programme that the Owner works/worked for
  • Items that the Owner has written, produced, assembled or made a significant contribution to
  • Physical features which make it difficult to digitise the item and/or to reconstruct it from the digital copy
  • Items illustrating a physical form due to a development in technology
  • Age that provides a quality of uniqueness
  • Aesthetic or artistic quality including photos
  • For use in exhibits
  • Items that the Owner wants to keep as mementos of his and her life
  • For easy access and showing to others
  • Does not belong to the Owner
  • Other – specify reason

It looks like the only items which are directly comparable are ‘Aesthetic or artistic quality including photos’ and the letter keeping reason ‘Photo or picture of interest’. There may also be some similarity between ‘Trophy items to be collected and enjoyed in the future’ and the letter keeping reason ‘Prestigious person, connection or event’. Apart from that though, the lists seem very different which is probably no great surprise since they are dealing with two completely different kinds of artefact: personal letters are all about the relationship between two individuals, whilst work documents are focused on rather more impersonal business activities.  There are, of course, personal relationships in business but, in general, that is not the main thrust of business documents.

Now that I’ve completed this ‘reasons’ for keeping’ exercise, I just need to get on and finish putting the letters I’ve kept into their storage folders. After that it will be time to reflect on what I’ve learnt about letter keeping in the digital age

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