Paul Charman: Enhance NZ Post - don't destroy it

Bill English has signed off on elimination of 500 more jobs at NZ Post - bad mistake, writes Paul Charman. File photo
Bill English has signed off on elimination of 500 more jobs at NZ Post - bad mistake, writes Paul Charman. File photo

Paul Charman claims NZ Post should be regarded as indispensable, his five reasons:

Bill English has signed off on elimination of 500 more jobs at NZ Post - bad mistake.

Alongside efficient electronic communications, every functional country needs an efficient postal service. If something happens to the first, you can get by using the second.

There is a disturbing chance of New Zealand losing internet service during the next few decades and having to fall back on other means of communication.

Even if this were only one chance in 100, there'd be no excuse for Mr English's ill-starred plans to diminish our postal services through cost-cutting.

It's like a Boeing 787 Dreamliner pilot ripping out his manual controls in the belief "the computer can fly the plane better than me".

Mr English should be enhancing our vital postal service, not destroying it with death by 1000 cuts.

If this country ever did lose the net, the result will be a short-term horror, of course.

But humans are adaptable; we'd get by as long as an alternative means of communication existed.

And it will exist, as in the ability to send letters, which till recent history kept the wheels of business and civil society turning just fine, as long as this facility is not dismantled.

But this "strategic communication alternative" argument is only one of several for enhancing NZ Post.

Here are some more:

1) Because emails dumb us down

Over reliance on electronic communications hastens the dumbing down of society, in my view anyway.

Electronic characters appear and disappear without much effort or thought from the writer. But if you write a line with a pen, it can be there forever, you must engage your brain.

Discouragement of manual writing skill is in all likelihood a wellspring behind our increasingly lightweight modern communications.

Historians keen to write up recent history must - since the era of email - find themselves hard-pressed to find much meaningful content.

Email is effective and quick for many purposes, yes, but it generally contains less of lasting value than thoughtful handwriting.

Letters already appear as their own "hard copy" - they won't be lost through electronic failures. And when you cannot correct-as-you-go the content becomes more measured and meaningful.

• Here is part of a letter by Private Henry Williamson, an Aucklander serving with the Australians at Gallipoli, who died from wounds three days after writing it:

'You will be surprised to hear that we are still occupying practically the same ground as at the start of the job here. The only advance we have made has been with the pick and shovel, with which handy tools we have straightened our line and strengthened our position...I have not stopped any lead yet, but I had a narrow shave the other night. The Turks tried to blow up one of our advanced trenches. I was hit with fallen earth, which must have missed my head by inches, but I got out of it with only a bruised thigh, though the man next to me had his leg broken and died the next day. I can only hope for my luck to continue . . .'

• Now a similar email, sent from the mobile of another Kiwi soldier nearby (whom I have invented), named Charlie Horse:

'OMG not getting anywhere today. I'm OK though LOL. But OMG yesterday BIG BOOM. A bomb blew us all up LERK.

Got me a sore leg but killed another guy. Hope all OK tomorrow LOL.'

2) Because outage is a real risk

Essentially, the argument eloquently stated by David Eagleman of CNN is that merely because the internet has not crashed in the decades following its creation, this does not mean it never will.

The internet could crash because of so-called "space weather", in the form of solar flares, a natural phenomenon which has already caused widespread failure and disruption to parts of the web in years gone by. Solar flares can apparently be powerful enough to trash satellites, blow out transformers and melt down computers. The internet could also be targeted during cyber warfare. Such conflicts would be contests between sides seeking to do maximum damage to the other's society, by trashing its internet systems.

To this end, military computer viruses of unheralded strength, such as the Stuxnet worm used against Iran's industrial systems in 2010, are apparently just waiting in the wings.

Or political mandate could shut down the internet; it could merely be switched off, as has previously happened in China and Iran.

Then there's cable-cutting. Apparently about 99 per cent of global web traffic goes by submarine cable. Such cables can be damaged by accidental shipping or natural disasters, but they may also be the targeted by terrorists, or become targets in the event of war.

3) NZ Post has been mismanaged

As I see it a once strong NZ Post has been run down by successive governments whose long game has been to sell it off.

The "press release" is always that people are sending fewer letters and this is solely behind the demise of our postal services.

Yes, New Zealanders are sending fewer letter, but what incentive to do otherwise.
The reality is NZ Post's resources were used to get Kiwibank established, an institution I have no quarrel with.

But it's rich to divert resources away from valid promotion and innovation at one state owned asset, solely in order to assist another one, then claim that it is dying because of unstoppable natural causes.

This situation is like the greedy children, who stand to benefit from their mother's death, and who are slipping arsenic in her tea, while preventing all visits from the doctor.

I have requested the amount allocated by the Government toward promotion of NZ Post services over the previous 10 years. At time of writing no response.

Finally, though poor old NZ Post has been bled dry to establish Kiwibank, no such reciprocation is likely.

This is ironic, considering that NZ Post's rival medium - broadband - is being subsided by the taxpayer to the tune of $1.5 billion.

4) Letters have romance

There's something about receiving the written thoughts of a friend or family member in their own hand. Reading a personal letter has a primitive appeal because of this. An unopened letter is a gift, to me as valuable as a Swiss watch and tasty as a slice of apple pie.

There's a magic about tearing open the envelope and removing the pages within.

And, while I'll admit to enjoying the sight of a new email in the inbox as well, the excitement generated pales beside the sight of a letter, with my address written in a friend's firm handwriting . . .

5) Even poor folk write them

It takes several hundred dollars to buy a computer, a phone and some internet access.

On the other hand, even at $1 for the price of a stamp, writing a letter only demands the use of a pen, envelope and a few sheets of papers.

And - considering that the quality of writing will probably be a lot better than the email variety - there's something very nice and minimalist about all that.

- NZ Herald

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