How many times a year do you stick a stamp on an envelope and pop it into one of those quaint red postboxes? Once a week, once a month? In my case it’s probably once every two months. All my technophobic maiden aunts have now departed this life (“passed on” as that dreadful euphemism goes) and no longer demand calligraphed communications on special occasions. About the only time I use the mail service is when someone sends me a pre-paid envelope for reply. Equally, I don’t get much through the letterbox either; the volume dwindles by the month.
Both in the USA and in the UK we pride ourselves on having reliable deliveries six days a week. In the UK, being a relatively little place, a first-class letter can be delivered next day to any address. And the Royal Mail has to tramp around to every door. No cutting corners, here. It’s a case of cave canem and never mind the trousers as the postie makes his way to every letterbox in the land.
Postal services in most western countries are facing a disastrous spiral of burgeoning costs and shrinking returns. It is all down to email, SMS, even the widespread use of mobile phones. With every year that goes by there is less and less incentive to get out your pen and write a letter.
There are some highlights for the humble letter. Christmas and birthday cards are a regular boost for the stricken postal services, but they are merely an analgesic for an industry suffering terminal pain.
Parcel and courier services, on the other hand, are booming. The eBay generation keeps the service going as the internet encourages more and more on-line shopping.
Already we are reduced to a very limited postal delivery service. It is now once a day, with no fixed time. In my lifetime we have gone from two daily deliveries, at fixed times, one before breakfast, to the present haphazard arrangements. The Victorians, mainly lacking telephones, email, SMS and all the other conveniences, had postal deliveries every few hours.
I see no end to the plight of the postal services. Electronic forms of communication will triumph and the daily delivery will soon be dead, along with Queen Victoria’s affordable penny black stamp.