Madonna King: Time to send a snail mail protest against Australia Post’s threat to letters

Remember the phone booth stationed on corners around big cities and small country towns?

Some still exist, here and there, but they are used more as prompts for parents to tell stories of the old days.

The landline is a relic too; a reminder of its role now consigned to a couple of holes in the wall, and a patch of lifted paint that many of us haven’t found time to fix.

The sound of a newspaper, laden with ink, thrown over the front fence at dawn. Friday night trips to grab a video before cranking up the VCR for a family movie night. Wrist watches that told the time, not our heart rates and sleep patterns. Dial-up modems and floppy disks, overhead projectors and road maps that were part of a book.

All gone, trodden on by the march of progress.

CDs. Real photo labs. Answering machines. MP3 players. Pagers. Even checkout operators and non-electronic cigarettes.

Gone. And now, the letter.

australia post

Australia Post couldn’t stop sending letters, could it? Photo: AAP

And perhaps this is where we should draw the line. Because most of the other changes have largely been directed at creating greater convenience.

A smart phone allows us to answer a call without running from one end of the house to another, or between meetings, or while we are out for walk. On every measure, it trumps the landline.

Online news provides an immediacy a paper filled with news cannot.

Streaming delivers a library of movies, not one that needs to be delivered back to the store in 24 hours. All those inventions gift us time, and that’s how they have been sold.

The monitors we wear on our arms tell the time, but also check our health; it’s a timely package of sorts, and cheaper than a good dress watch.

Electronic checkouts even allow us to shop, without talking to someone, and many of us find that a bonus too.

But the letter?

This is as big as the removal of the service station attendant, who allowed us to stay in the car, as they filled the petrol tank and washed the windscreen.

Maybe even bigger.

And the difference with other technological advances is clear.

Those other changes provided a feel-good factor and a big dose of convenience. They empowered us. And in some cases, improved our health and gave us back hours in the day.

Not so with the service station attendant. But we’ve lost that case. Forever more, if we can afford it, we’ll be filling our own petrol tanks.

But that’s why we need to rail against suggestions that Australia Post might soon dispense with delivering our mail.

Personalised pleasures

Yes, we can send and receive emails. And it might even save a bit of time. But what about that little pop of surprise when you visit the letterbox to find a real letter?

Not one from the real estate agent canvassing for a sale. Or the electricity bill.

One that makes you feel like a million dollars. Written on white paper, in an envelope, with your name plastered across the front. Not typed. Written.

Last year, it was my New Year’s resolution; to send a letter to someone, every week. It only lasted a few months, but in every single case, the recipient later described that sense of exhilaration at opening it, and reading it.

Not everything old fashioned is bad. And not everything new is good.

We can still save the letter, and not just because a chunk of our population are not email users. Because in a world of bad news, it offers a smile.

Sending a letter might soon be a thing of the past. Photo: AAP

Like everything, it comes down to economics. We are not sending or receiving enough of them – and that’s behind a decision by the federal government to review the role of Australia Post.

Australian homes only receive 2.4 letters each week now, down from 8.5 each week 15 years ago.

But if we can lift that letter writing rate, and make the economics work, we will cement its future.

The solution simply requires a crisp white piece of paper, a pen, and a commitment to make someone else feel good the next time they visit their letterbox.

Perhaps the first one doesn’t even need to be that feel-good type; consider it a practice post.

And why don’t we all write that one to the Finance Minister, who will have a key say in whether the letter is killed off.

Dear Katy Gallagher …

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