Allow Me Change Your Mind: The Technological Resistance of Thank You Note


John Huber, Reporter

When receiving a gift, whether it be preferred or not, one expresses gratitude by saying “thank you” to the gift giver. Even at the campus store, there are cards for many occasions, including thank-you notes. There is one extra step that feels traditional but, at the same time, outdated and that is the thank-you letter. How did this form of written thanks come to fruition? Well, let’s turn back the clock and find out.

The earliest thank-you notes can be traced back to Chinese and Egyptian cultures. People would often write and exchange notes of friendship, good luck and thanks with one another, as well as social notes in the later 1400s. This is when the modern version was first developed as Europeans exchanged greeting cards with friends and family members. It was a new form of social expression that involved delivering notes by hand.

In 1856, Pouis Prang brought thank-you notes to the United States after immigrating from Germany, furthering a practice that arguably started long before that time in other parts of the world. Although postage stamps were invented in 1840 and thus, before thank-you notes arrived in the United States, historians attribute the postage stamp to helping the thank-you note make its way into the mainstream.

Due to the availability of thank-you notes, people could send them outside their local areas, perhaps to show appreciation to loved ones who lived across the country. It also became popular for consumers to buy special books filled with thank-you notes designed by artists. Sending a hand-written thank-you note, rather than a letter after a casual business encounter became an accepted and even preferred custom in the mid-1900s.

Once people started using the internet for electronic communications, many companies launched sites with thank-you cards users could send to anyone with an email address.

But is it necessary with the age of increased communication via technology?

Well… Allow me to Change Your Mind

With the advent of faster communication, it seems the idea of a thank-you letter has worn out its welcome. It feels like you are saying thank you for a gift TWICE if the gift giver was there when you received it and reacted to it, once verbally and the second in written form. If the gift was sent via mail or online, I can see the point of a thank-you letter. But if the gift giver was there when you received the gift, it makes the first thank you feel like a bluff and you need to have it in written form in order to convince them you really are thankful for the gift.

If you know the gift giver’s phone number, as well as their email address (one or the other, it doesn’t have to be both, though if they have a smartphone and can text, that works, too) then a simple thank-you phone call would work just as well as they could hear the inflection in your voice instead of reading words on a paper. If you want to express thanks for those who weren’t there to give you a gift, a thank you is necessary. 

Well that’s a wrap on season 4. I would like to express my thanks to the crew of The Highlander for not only helping me come up with ideas for this column every week but also for inspiring me to keep going until the end. See you in season 5, which will also be my final season (Maybe I should start searching for a successor now.)