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The Herald on Sunday editorial

Herald on Sunday editorial: Love emails are just not the same

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Photo / APN
Photo / APN

"I'm gonna sit right down and write myself an email, and make believe it came from you," doesn't really have the same ring as the original.

Likewise "Lonely days are gone. I'm a-goin' home, cos my baby just a-sent me a text".

And if Pat Boone were to croon that his "heart aches with every wave that breaks over tweets in the sand", he'd presumably be lamenting the water damage to his cellphone rather than the obliteration of his deathless prose.

It's hard to imagine songwriters composing lyrics about letters these days. Handwritten words on paper folded and tucked into an envelope have become, like the steam engine, charmingly antique. That's progress for you.

New Zealand Post seems to have begun a long-term process of bowing to the inevitable: even as the standard letter rate is set to rise from July 1, the state-owned enterprise is seeking changes to its 14-year-old deed so it can cut deliveries from six days a week to three.

It is attempting to head off predicted losses of $10 million to $20 million a year because of declining mail volumes.

The faintly contemptuous term "snail mail" speaks volumes about our priorities. In an age where the facsimile machine is positively antediluvian and even email is a little clunky compared with the terse and fancifully spelled communications on social media platforms, it is hardly surprising. Yet more is being lost here than an SOE's money.

The postie may not blow a whistle any more, but arrival of the post has always delivered - and continues to deliver - a frisson that no electronic alert can ever give an email recipient. On those regrettably few occasions when the mail is not all in window envelopes, there's a thrill to be had in slitting open a letter. It's a wrapped gift in miniature.

Much of that pleasure resides in the fact that the sender has taken some trouble in the communication. Here is a document that bears the imprint of the writer's own hand; the thoughts have been carefully composed; the words painstakingly shaped. Better still, the message is one-to-one: no one else is cc'd (or worse bcc'd); the words are (probably) spelt correctly; and the sign-off is more likely to be "with kind regards" or "much love" than "l8r".

There's not much we can do to stave off the arrival of the future but that does not mean we should not rage against the dying of light, as the poet put it. Take a brief holiday in the past: write a letter to someone you know. You might even get one back.

- Herald on Sunday

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