Editorial: Yours sincerely

by The Listener / 31 January, 2013
Reduction in the frequency of mail deliveries is inevitable, but it foreshadows the loss of something important.
Editorial - Yours sincerely
Photo/Thinkstock


Even in an age of instant messaging, the letter still has a firm grip on the human imagination. Enclosed in an envelope sealed by the sender’s hand, it achieves an intimacy that its modern electronic equivalents can never aspire to. The phrase “love email” doesn’t exist because the disjunction between medium and message makes it a contradiction in terms.

By contrast, Katherine Mansfield’s famous 1917 letter to John Middleton Murry, left between the pages of his journal, has a sensuous, tactile quality: “I long to write to you tonight,” it ran, as she rhapsodised about “your creamy warm skin … and your feet that I love to clasp with my feet”. It’s a somewhat more memorable missive than a “u wanna hook up?” text message.

Little wonder, then, that the latest threat to the system derisively called “snail mail” has stirred tempers. New Zealand Post announced last week that it will seek to change its 15-year-old Deed of Understanding with the Crown: in order to increase flexibility and maintain profitability in the face of plummeting mail volumes, it wants to cut the delivery frequency by as much as half.

The loudest complaints have come from elderly folk who remain devoted to letter-writing. Hamilton octogenarian Nanette Hynson spoke for many when she said that “in another 10 years, maybe, they could do it, but at the moment, there’s still people, my generation, that don’t have email”.

There’s anger in rural communities, too: getting the mail on time is a lifeline to the outside world. Federated Farmers suggests that as many as 86,000 New Zealanders – more than the population of Palmerston North – remain offline.

It would take a hard heart not to sympathise with both these groups. Many people still value written personal communication, greeting cards and the like. But their amenity will not be cruelly abridged by, say, a move to Monday, Wednesday and Friday delivery. As many have observed, most of what lands in the letterbox these days is in a window envelope, and a day’s delay is always welcome.

That said, it would be foolhardy for NZ Post to continue with a full-blown service that was costing it money. Despite its notionally independent status as a state-owned enterprise, it is still a public utility that functions at the will of the Government. There comes a point where it is irresponsible to continue a public service just for the sake of it. And if the company were to hike postage prices to balance the books, it would hurt the very groups who are protesting against the present plans – and probably aggravate its woes by chasing business away.

Growing environmental awareness has also affected paper communications: witness the exhortations to “think of the environment before printing this email” and the modern habit for emailed Christmas greetings, which may seem joyless and perfunctory but at least allow the senders to feel smug about conserving resources. But overwhelmingly, the 24-hour convenience and immediacy of cyber-communications has made NZ Post’s age-old business model obsolete.

A good chunk of the mail is made up of magazines like this one, and we are conscious of the potential for the proposed change to affect subscribers. It is with that in mind that, late last year, we made online access available to subscribers from Thursday noon, and that advantage will remain when and if the hard-copy delivery takes a day longer.

As always happens when progress wreaks a paradigm shift, however, we mourn the loss of something that will never be regained. Historians already warn of the possibility that their future counterparts will not find today’s letters and other written documents tucked in obscure corners. Will our correspondence, created and stored digitally, survive hard-drive crashes, changes of internet service provider and the repeated replacement of laptops, in order that it may be scrutinised by posterity?

A letter sent in 1915 from Gallipoli by Colonel William Malone, Commander of the Wellington Battalion, assured his wife that “I love and have loved you … I know you will never forget or let the dear children do so”. It has rightly passed into legend, not least because Malone never came home.

It is hard to imagine that a text message keyed in today, no matter how sincere its intent, will be as engaging a century hence as that last post.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

The rate of technological change is now exceeding our ability to adapt
71303 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Technology

The rate of technological change is now exceeding …

by Peter Griffin

A decade on from the revolution of 2007, the pace and rate of change are exceeding our capacity to adapt to new technologies.

Read more
Government tests electric limo for Crown fleet
71520 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Technology

Government tests electric limo for Crown fleet

by Benedict Collins

An electric-hybrid limousine is being put through its paces to see whether it's up to the job of transporting politicians and VIPs around the country.

Read more
What growing antibiotic resistance means for livestock and the environment
71360 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

What growing antibiotic resistance means for lives…

by Sally Blundell

Animals kept in close proximity, like battery chickens, are at risk of infectious disease outbreaks that require antibiotic use.

Read more
The little-known story of Ernest Rutherford's secret anti-submarine work in WWI
71418 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z History

The little-known story of Ernest Rutherford's secr…

by Frank Duffield

Famous for his work splitting the atom, Ernest Rutherford also distinguished himself in secret anti-submarine research that helped the Allies win WWI.

Read more
Book review: Larchfield by Polly Clark
71160 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Books

Book review: Larchfield by Polly Clark

by Nicholas Reid

Poet WH Auden stars in time-hurdling novel – as a life coach to a lonely mum.

Read more
A Way with Words: Fiona Farrell
71329 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Books

A Way with Words: Fiona Farrell

by Fiona Farrell

Do I have a routine? Yes indeed. Otherwise I’d never get anything done. I am very distractible. Suggest coffee and I’ll be there.

Read more
The blue zone: Kiwi workers' wage gap trap
71457 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Economy

The blue zone: Kiwi workers' wage gap trap

by Virginia Larson

For blue-collar workers, the gap between the haves and the have-littles is widening.

Read more
Suitably predictable: Why we're attracted to a uniform
71366 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Psychology

Suitably predictable: Why we're attracted to a uni…

by Marc Wilson

Why firefighters get the girl more often than the average bloke does.

Read more