October 9 is World Post Day, an annual holiday marking the establishment of the World Postal Union, an organisation dedicated to maintaining the flow of international mail. While many postal services around the world will be gathering internally to make speeches about the significance and heritage of international mail exchange, the financial viability of mail in an increasingly digitised, privatised world will continue to be questioned.
Following a global trend of decreasing mail volume, the United Kingdom’s addressed letter volumes fell 3.7 per cent from 2014 to 2015 according to an Ofcom communications survey. This marks the ninth year of worldwide decline in mail overall since peak mail in 2006.
Not only are the tangible amounts of mail decreasing, but mail’s role in society has diminished substantially since its conception in 2400 BC when Egyptian Pharaohs established an organised system for the distribution of decrees. Even as recently as the second world war, mail played a key role in geopolitical and social life, with Paul Fussell, an American cultural and literary historian who served in the 103rd infantry division reporting that: “Letters were a great comfort. And the mail was indispensable. We couldn’t have won the war without it.”
While modern public figures may be stingy about sharing their emails, visionaries in the past from Napoleon to Oscar Wilde have left us a wealth of information through their epistolary correspondences. If letters continue to decline in popularity, future generations of historians will be denied the inner musings, thought processes and unlaunched ideas of our current great minds.
However, it may not be too late for our beloved snail mail. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2008 found that writing notes or letters to friends is the most common type of extracurricular writing among teens with 64 per cent of participants having done so in the last year – a number to boast of considering the meagre 34 per cent who have written in a diary, the second most popular category.
For students just beginning university, letter writing can be a great way to keep relationships strong without feeling the burden of a more regular time commitment.
While emails or messages demand immediate responses, letters take more time to send and more time to write. For a busy university student, an occasional longer letter can be a more manageable, meaningful way of staying in touch with someone important to you. Letters can often take you a lot further than an email can in terms of personalisation, intimacy and fun.
Your handwriting can add that personal touch. The excitement of getting something in the mail can make you feel cared about while evoking a nostalgic affection.
You can also add fun touches in a way that would be impractical in a letter. For example, washi tape, stickers and stationary can prove a worthy medium for you to customise your letters to your heart’s content.
I like to take my letter writing even further by adding fun little gifts: foreign tea bags for my mother, small necklaces or stickers for my friends, handmade bookmarks in thank you cards, packets of seeds for my grandmother, and newspaper clippings or pictures for my brothers.
While the days of putting pen to paper may seem long behind us, a letter might be just what you need to stay connected to an old friend or at the very least make your next request for funds from your parents seem more substantiated by interactions.
After all, in this city populated by cobblestones, kirks and wynds, how out of place can an old fashioned letter really be? With the legacy of famous literary figures stuck in the mortar and the castle looking down on me, a shiny red postbox has never seemed quite so alluring.
[Image: Didgeman @ Pixabay]