10 December, 2007

La lettre est morte. Vive la lettre!

An Anachronism in today's times.

I wrote a letter today. A real true blue dinky die letter, and (with large numbers of modifications to suit a blog entry) it went a bit like this:

You are officially holding an anachronism in your hands; a throwback to the past when email, blogs, and Youtube hadn't been quite invented yet; Life, The Universe, and Everything hadn't been written, and we still thought for ourselves, or tried to anyhow. These days, we're more likely to ask if someone will be able to take a shot of their cat with their cellphone camera so we can display it on our LCD monitor as a backdrop, while we listen to the latest album from ColdPlay that we paid $1.99 per tune for and downloaded to our iPod. These days, Letters To the Editor are more likely to be emails, instead of pieces of paper.

There's the inevitable torrent of spam pouring into our ISP's mailboxes trying to sell you any NUMBER of things; while most of them will be deleted by the ISP, even they can't catch all of them. Then there are phone calls across the world through your computer for practically free, or very reasonable rates at least.

Send me a letter!

There's no reason for letters, when "stuff" is so much quicker, and we've become so used to response times of less than ten minutes (maybe an hour if we're busy and can't catch up) that letters have simply been left in the dust. That is, until the electricity goes out. Once that happens, none of the other stuff will work, especially if the phone network's gone down too. Then, only a good old-fashioned letter, sent by a friendly postal representative, will do.

Barring fires (and the occasional maraudering rubbish bin), letters have a longer life than some data CDs do, certainly longer than files on floppies, and eternally longer (and more durable) than most people's memories end up being. We haven't managed to duplicate these advantages of letters, even though we've come up with a far faster way of getting information from place A to place B on a certain mudball (the third one from the sun, I think).

Going Postal

Terry Pratchett wrote about letters having a spirit in his book "Going Postal". Get enough of them together in one place, and you have a critical mass. It's a comedy with a bit of a look at the more serious sides of life. Murder. Hanging. An angel. A new life. A new job, restoring the Ankh Morpork Postal Service, which has become moribund, useless, and frankly totally outdated and unused. The building, last used twenty years before, is looked after by one rather old codger with a breastplate made of flannelete, goose grease and hot bread pudding that's become tougher than kevlar, and one young pin fancier with less brains than the average rabbit, and that's after the "Wow, two moons!" moment.

Moist von Lipwig (ex-murderer, con artist, and all-around shyster) has gained a chance to reform his character, by reforming the Postal Service. He thinks it's all for nothing, but the letters have other ideas. There are hundreds of thousands of them in the building, including some that nobody ever wrote, and they must be sent. And so it is - he restores the Post Office, posts letters, and incidentally, manages to take charge of the very organisation that put the Post Office out of business to begin with. No mean feat, when the previous owner of that organisation (who refused his angel, by the way, and is now dead) fought VERY hard to have Moist killed, disposed of, and plain neutralised. But, the letters must be sent.

And so this letter will be sent, (and blogged) with many Christmas wishes to you. You can see a copy on my blogsite (you're reading it now, actually), but don't worry, I won't turn it into an mp3, to charge $1.99. Besides which, it's only my $0.02 worth, so I'd be making a horrible profit.

I wanted to make this letter personal, but it doesn't have that feel to me - I've only worked over three separate versions, one of which will appear as a blog entry online. This one alone survives in paper and handwriting form, just like the good old days when spam was probably edible, the web was pretty if it had dew on it in the morning, and people still thought for themselves.

Or tried to, anyhow.

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