I love writing letters. It might be a little old fashioned (I'm sure somewhere in a magazine it will have been described as vintage by now!) but there's something very relaxing about settling down with a pretty piece of paper and writing to someone you haven't seen or spoken to for a while. Typing an email just doesn't feel the same. There isn't the sense of finality as when you put ink on paper; with an email any mistakes can be removed and sentences are easily rewritten and it just doesn't feel as personal.
Another reason I sometimes write letters rather than emails is because the people I'm writing letters to don't have computers or email addresses. They've survived for 80 years without them and I very much doubt they'll ever use them. Also, if you want to send someone something colourful to brighten up their day the internet has a long way to go before it's colourful fonts and images actually rival pretty writing paper or a hand chosen card.
But is writing a letter and posting it to someone any more or less environmentally friendly than emailing someone? On the face of it I would presume email is better. No paper used and no fuel used to transport the physical message around the world sounds like a good thing. But it's very easy to forget that using the internet uses more energy than just your laptop battery. You need to power the servers that run the web pages, you'll probably spend more time online than just to send that one email once you've booted up the computer, and the receiver will also have to turn on a computer and go on the internet to receive it. Storing emails costs money and energy too which is why companies repeatedly tell employees to tidy their inboxes and remove unwanted mail from storage.
According to another blog on this subject one letter sent by post has about the same environmental impact as using a laptop for about an hour (20g of CO2). I expect that as you send more emails (think how many you could send in that one hour of computer time) it becomes more efficient. So, if you can type fast and know what you want to say, sending a bulk load of emails will probably be greener than sending a bulk load of letters. But if you're going online just to send one email and you'll spend a long time composing it, a letter might just be greener. Thinking about how many letters are computer written nowadays I suspect that typing the letter on a computer, and then printing and posting it may actually be the least green method, although obviously the formality of letters over emails and the ease of corrections in word processors have massive benefits.
The other obvious advantage of email is the speed. I can talk instantly with friends all around the world when a letter would take possibly weeks. It works in the opposite direction too that I can email a friend in the same town as me at any time of day, and know they can receive it and reply without having to wait for the postman to come and pick up the response.
There also the price of letter writing to consider. Buying paper, envelopes and stamps are all more expensive than turning on the laptop. It's definitely more expensive to send post so I suppose if you spent the cost of a second class stamp on offsetting carbon emissions every time you sent an email perhaps email would be greener
But there are ways we can make both emails and letter writing greener. Switching to a renewable energy source means that any emails we send will hopefully be using energy that isn't polluting and that can be used again. Actually clearing out old inboxes and deleting unwanted mail means servers aren't having to constantly store messages we will never use or need (and I promise you'll feel less stressed with a nice tidy inbox!). Using recycled paper and envelopes for letter writing means you don't need forests to be cut down to send your mail and in fact using Royal Mail is probably one of the most efficient methods of sending post, because your little letter goes in a bag with lots of others so the environmental cost of transporting it is shared out too.
I think I'll always be more excited to get a letter than an email, just because I know someone has put the time and effort into sending it and the art of letter writing will, I suspect, never quite transfer over to emails. But whichever you do, why not send someone a message today? Whether it's a letter to a friend you speak to daily online, or an email to someone you normally only post Christmas cards too. Keeping in touch is definitely worth the effort.