Open letters: To whom it may concern

It used to be just angry celebrities (and Moses) who wrote open letters. Now, even America's top businesses are taking the president to task, says Clare Dwyer Hogg

Despite our addiction to fast-emotion delivery in 140 characters, an unlikely group of people is holding a torch for ancient arts. Letter writing. It's big with celebrities at the moment, have you noticed? Hard not to, as the kind souls like to make their letters "open". It could almost be a new trend, if it wasn't actually one of the oldest things ever (ref: Moses).

Until yesterday, it was pretty much a celebrity thing. But on Monday, they were joined by multi-national companies. People who matter from Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Twitter and LinkedIn got together (imagine how long it took to agree on the wording), and wrote an open letter to Barack Obama and Congress, pressing them to "restore trust" after the NSA surveillance revelations.

Fine. But Sinead O'Connor, a committee of one, made the news first. In October, she posted a letter to Miley Cyrus. On her blog. So it was delivered to Miley via the rest of the planet. O'Connor said it was motherly, written in the spirit of love, which I don't doubt, because she said some insightful things. But if my mum wrote me a letter telling me off, I'd probably have preferred that she put it in an envelope and post it to me. Miley's rebellious answer unwisely mocked O'Connor's past mental illness. O'Connor's response was a bit less motherly (more swearing). Still in an open letter, though, which was a boon for everyone waiting to see what happened next.

Don't forget Russell Brand. He wrote a piece for the New Statesman in October, urging revolution. Robert Webb (actor from Peep Show) felt moved to write him – deep breath – an open letter. He was concerned that revolution meant "death camps, gulags". Soon after, Brand said: "If you went to Oxbridge… no one is coming for your kids… That's my open letter to Robert. I hope it doesn't go to the other one by mistake – David Mitchell…" And then he asked a really good question: "Why didn't he just write me a normal letter?"

Why not just write a normal letter? Perhaps because the art of letter-writing isn't dead: what's dead is the art of privacy. Yes, privacy, that annoying old bore who keeps going on about how we'll all regret it when we're grown up and won't get jobs because we've sexted pictures of ourselves. Whatevs!

There's also the point, though, that there are so many media outlets, so many anonymous people at keyboards proliferating made-up theories about news, that maybe the open letter is a way of very firmly nailing your colours to the mast before anyone runs off with them.

Which is why it makes sense that, last week, the real Philomena Lee, namesake of the film, wrote openly to Kyle Smith, a critic for the New York Post. He had denounced the retelling of her story as Catholic-bashing. Lee wrote that despite having her son taken away from her by the church, she had kept her faith, and it hadn't been like he said it had been.

The thing is, while an open letter has its place, the phrase is becoming a little too familiar. If I thought anyone would listen, I'd ask for a break. But my pleas are but tiny cries for quiet in a deluge of noise. Twitter, after all, is just the elevator version of an open letter. It owes its very crux of being to the same dynamic: get it all out there, so they know "your side of the story".

What they've done is cut out the middle man, so there are no Max Clifford types urging you to tell it how it really happened. It's just you and your computer, and REPLY ALL.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

    £7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor