Has anyone noticed the number of “open letters” floating around the internet lately? It seems every second blog post/magazine website/news website has an open letter written to someone who has caused offence to the writer either directly or through some careless comments. I must admit, I have always found them odd and never really understood the term “open letter”? Isn’t that an oxymoron, like “dry ocean” or “delicious brocolli”?
Are they a relatively new phenomenon because of the internet, I wondered? I Googled. According to the Macmillan dictionary, an open letter is “a letter that is addressed to a particular person or organization but is published in a newspaper so that everyone can read it“. That definition, combined with the fact that I see that they were occasionally published in magazines in the 70s says they are not a new concept. But they are everywhere on the internet. Have they experience a surge in popularity? I’m confused. In fact, I find open letters quite baffling. There’s no Wikipedia page explaining the open letter to me. All that came up was a bunch of open letters and the above definition! That answered nothing!
Before the internet, I think it would have been a bit hard to write one and have it published knowing that the intended recipient would probably read it. If you wrote one in a national newspaper/magazine, there is a fair chance the recipient might not see it if they don’t buy the paper. If you wrote it and posted it to them, then it just would have been a letter, not an open letter, right? If you write one now, with Twitter, Facebook, blogs and so on, the recipient’s attention will be brought to it. Probably. Unless the recipient is living under an internet-free rock.
Where did the idea of an open letter come from? Seriously, who sat down one day and thought, “I’m going to express my views to this person by publishing my letter instead of walking down to the mail box and posting it” – did they write it for publication in case writing an actual letter got lost in the mail? Did they write it openly because it would save on a trip to the post office? That can’t be right, because they would have had to post it to the editor of the newspaper or magazine! Did the first open letter set the tone of criticism?
If the open letter is critical of the recipient, is it upsetting to be the recipient? I would be upset. Would it be less upsetting if the open letter was an ordinary letter or an article/blog post about why/what/where the recipient went wrong or was disagreeable?
What prompts the author to want to write about something as an open letter instead of an article/post, etc? Is it because it can be in first person? Does that then prompt the recipient to write an open letter back? In which case, it becomes a series of open letters, when they could have just had a coffee (with cake on the side) and sorted it all out.
All these questions! See how it can be confusing? Or am I over thinking it? I probably am. I do that. Often. Still, I haven’t worked out why people write open letters and post them on the internet. I actually find them quite mean and know that I’m going to read something critical and harsh when opening a link to one. Does anyone have the answer as to why people write open letters? Anyone?!
Do you write open letters? Do you know why people do? Any particularly good ones to share?