Death of the Postbox | Aidan Cook

spring2008postboxAs the post drops through the letterbox, something catches your eye. Among all the junk mail and the long-overdue bill reminders, one envelope stands out. Not just any envelope, but a thick cream envelope with your name in a lovely handwritten script. Barely containing your excitement, you rip open the envelope and take out three heavy pages of handwritten delight. A personal letter handwritten just for you…

In these days of email and text, the above scenario may seem far-fetched. When was the last time you received such a letter? And more importantly perhaps, when did you last send one? In 2005, a survey found that a third of 16 to 19 year-old girls had never written a letter. For boys, the figure was well over half. Internet and the mobile revolution may have made communication far more efficient but it has also made it increasingly impersonal.

Where eBooks died a rapid death, email grew rapidly and personal correspondence suffered as a result. The reasons most people would never read a book on a computer screen are the same reasons that emails are so inferior to the good old handwritten letter. It is not just the tactile and personal quality of the letter that makes it superior but also its very contents. Most people will put far more time and effort into a letter than they ever would into an email, and it shows. The number of books reproducing letter-correspondence of one kind or another is astonishing. The same cannot be said, and nor can it ever be imagined being said, of email.

So if letters are so much better then why are they currently so unpopular? Well, for a start, there is the eternal problem of deciphering great-aunt Mildred’s spidery little scratchings. “She’s dying?! Sorry, no, her neighbour’s pet budgie is dying…” In this area, email definitely has a distinct advantage, and it is not the only area. An email arrives at its destination within seconds, while a letter takes days. If you’re lucky. Every year, about 650,000 letters and parcels are registered as lost in the post. And those are only the ones that people actually bother complaining about. Some get lost by accident, others are collecting dust in a lonely postman’s living room to provide reading material for his retirement. So your personal letter may not be so personal after all, but then where’s the fun if you don’t take risks in life? And given the ease with which most people share their private phone conversations with fellow bus passengers, this shouldn’t put many people off. And in any case, should your letter not reach its destination, you can at least rest assured that it will be providing some old man with a laugh or two.

Then, of course, there’s the cost. With quality writing paper and envelopes, and First Class stamps coming in at 34 pence each, sending a letter certainly isn’t the cheapest way of staying in touch. But you do get what you pay for. A handwritten letter has a certain quality that cannot be equalled by any other method of communication and so will always have its fans.

Indeed, there may even be a chance of long-awaited comeback. As people tire of the fast-paced stress of the modern world, a trend can definitely be noted moving back to a more relaxed lifestyle. The letter certainly has many qualities that appear to be more and more in demand: it is personal, you can hold it in your hand and, above all, it makes you feel good. So next time you’re having a party, forget about Facebook and send proper invitations in the post. It’s time to get writing.

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