Editorial: Will truth get lost in hard drive

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A blonde woman, of whom I'm fond, is prone to mixing her metaphors, cliches and whatever other part of the English language she can get her mouth around.

But recently she had a moment which did not match her hair colour. It went straight into the file "use later".

She spoke about the gift of the letter, and how much she loved to receive her parents' words wrapped in an envelope lovingly posted from England. It was always a moment she savoured. Then the punchline: "Other than that it's just bills isn't it."

It got me thinking about how right she was, and about the slow and agonising death of the letter.

Of course New Zealand Post has known about the impact of email for some time, which has only been exacerbated by the proliferation of social media.

Compared with 2002 they've seen 265 million fewer items posted on average each year.

That's why my dear old mum can no longer walk a few paces from her gate to drop her correspondence into a shiny red box.

That's why many of us now dread our daily visits to the letter box, rather than approach with the hope of friendly contact, maybe even from overseas. Of course the letter box is already virtually redundant in households where bills are paid exclusively over the internet.

And now the grim reality of the changing face of communication looks set to impact on several of the 7000 postal employees, with a proposal unveiled yesterday to cut mail delivery from six days to three days.

How long will it be before the job description, "postie", will disappear all together?

As a profit-making business it is difficult to criticise NZ Post which says that within five years mail volumes will be half of what they were in 2002.

Of course, those of us brought up with the postal service will adapt to the new delivery of services, while the younger generation won't know what the fuss is about.

But I share the lament of my blonde friend. A mulcher of words for sure, but a lover of them also.

So much of what we know has come from collections of letters. From the inner thoughts of the most influential politicians, to the horrors of war, to the social mores of different generations, to the unknown affair of a deceased friend. The unveiling of truth has come from the humble pen on paper later pushed into an envelope with a stamp attached and carried to all parts north, south, east and west.

That said, I can't remember a recent occasion when I have sent a personal letter in my own handwriting via NZ Post.

But I do remember the reaction I got from a friend who received a handwritten letter I sent at Christmas some years ago. She said that she and her husband were "amazed" to receive it, because "nobody sends letters like that any more". A lover of words, she added that they had "loved it".

Sadly our love for what once was will not save the letter from inevitable decline. That friend, for example, is now a prolific user of Facebook.

But I do have a question for progress. Will the hard drive - sometimes unreliable - create a legacy as powerful and enduring as the humble letter?

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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