In today’s world of Tinder and texting, do we write and save love letters anymore? Are we more likely to save a screen shot of a text exchange or a box of paper letters from a lover? How might these different ways to store a love letter make us feel? Sociologist Michelle Janning’s Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age offers a new twist on the study of love letters: what people do with them and whether digital or paper format matters.
Through stories, a rich review of past research, and her own survey findings, Janning uncovers whether and how people from different groups (including gender and age) approach their love letter “curatorial practices” in an era when digitization of communication is nearly ubiquitous. She investigates the importance of space and time, showing how our connection to the material world and our attraction to nostalgia matter in actions as seemingly small and private as saving, storing, stumbling upon, or even burning a love letter. Janning provides a framework for understanding why someone may prefer digital or paper love letters, and what that preference says about a person’s access and attachment to powerful cultural values such as individualization, taking time in a hectic world, longevity, privacy, and keeping cherished things in a safe place.
Ultimately, Janning contends, the cultural values that tell us how romantic love should be defined are more powerful than the format our love letters take. Her work fits within larger academic questions about the sociology of emotions, how culture works, the importance of objects in social relations, and the significance of privilege in everyday life.