Friday, 8 May 2009

Renaissance of The Victorian Internet...?

Many Victorians enjoyed three postal deliveries a day - Breakfast, lunch and teatime. In most towns and cities it was possible to post a letter in the morning and receive a reply by teatime, or even return of post! Although telegrams caused a stir when they arrived, they were prohibitively expensive for all but emergency or overseas communiques. It was the Royal Mail's Post Office which offered the real Victorian 'internet' for the masses with its famous nationwide Penny Black stamp for all letters.

Over a century later, I was a huge devotee of letter writing and really enjoyed both sending and receiving them - until the rot of e-mail came along and infected me too, reducing my postal output to Christmas cards and the odd scribbled postcard.

Now, thanks in part to my thoughtlessness, our Post Office is at risk with branches closing weekly, many sorting offices closed or inefficiently amalgamated between cities and towns many miles from each other, and the Post Office struggles to deliver post to our homes even once a day, often long after the occupants have left for work and given up waiting for that important letter or cheque to be delivered.

Yet I have found from recent job applications that I receive far greater response from 'snail mail' applications than electronic ones. Has it really become so unusual to receive land mail and so common to be deluged by e-mail that more notice is now paid once more to the three-dimensional variety? And while I am always careful to type a relevant subject heading in any e-mail heading box, I can imagine that an awful lot of e-mails end up in people's Junk boxes, though of course there are those who conveniently pretend they have never received a message.

When not extolling the benefits of snail mail to my fellow unemployed, I have just seen another and greater glimmer of hope for the future of our Post Office. Namely that when all e-mails and mobile phone calls are intercepted (ok, stored for use) by our government, people will revert to writing letters in their droves as the only private means of communicating over distance. Certainly this move to spy on us all (just in case we develop some bizarre yen to take up a new career as terrorists) is bound to provoke a mass public reaction, and this would be the obvious one.

I have also, spurred by economic necessity, reverted to using my local Library a great deal more lately rather than buying books (another public service under increasing threat). 'Use it or lose it', as they say.

Ironic though that the Victorians had a better postal service than us. And a more extensive and reliable rail network. Not to mention nicer architecture. Some 'progress' would appear to be going in a backwards direction...


Rol said...

I used to be a regular letter writer when I was a teenager, with a number of "pen friends" (not officially) who I wrote to on a regular basis about comics, music etc.

Many of these I still keep in touch with by email now... but one of my best friends in that regard was Nigel, and when email started becoming more common, we made a concerted effort to keep up the snail mail, because they meant more to both of us than just another beep in the inbox.

We don't exchange letters as often as we once did - and for quick communication we do use email - but we've found that it's worthwhile to keep using the postal service. There's something about getting a letter through your door that an email will never match.

Steve said...

I was a pen friend to many during my teens and twenties and it was - and still is - a real treat to receive a proper letter. When email arrived I stoldily wrote as I always has - just enjoyed the immediacy of sending my missive by email... but then, inevitably, the immediacy somehow led to brevity and my letter writing skills have fallen dormant.

Your point about secrecy / privacy are interesting. I hadn't thought of it in those terms before. I think I shall go to the PO tomorrow and buy myself a book of stamps...

Anonymous said...

Ah yes but we wouldn't want to go back to those frocks would we?

I was a big letter writer too. My grandmother kept all the letters I wrote to her whilst I was at University and when she died 10 years later it was wonderful to get them back and read them again. I still have all hers too.

I love to get letters. And I do still get a few personal ones.

I think you are right re email - people do use the delete button very freely. A hard copy is harder to ignore and actually more pleasant to read.

And yes, we MUST support our public libraries.

Wisewebwoman said...

I think there will be a huge revival of the post office, Laura. I use it a lot for business, hard copy files as all is not on the interwebz yet. As more artisans sell their wares on the web, the post will be needed for shipment. I still write cards to friends and clients though my life is 80% webz.
Rail will come back as oil gradually fades (or should I say slicks?) away.

Geoff said...

I used to enjoy writing letters but you'd often have to wait months for a response. Life just gets quicker and more immediate (unless you're talking about the trains).

I like the differences in people's handwriting, too. Though I hate my own.

garfer said...

I want a pigeon to deliver my mail.

Pigeons are more reliable than ferrets. Or the Royal Mail.

Nota Bene said...

I can't remember the last time I received a proper letter. Or sent one. The two things may be related. But it's a great sadness anyway.

KAZ said...

It's interesting that you receive a better response from snail mail.
I'm not sure I've noticed that - but I do notice that Victorian buildings don't crumble and die like the modern ones... oh and the same can be said for the sewers and resevoirs.

Tessa said...

Although I really am not that old (i.e., not a Victorian) I do remember morning and afternoon postal deliveries when I was a kid in Ireland. It actually was possible to mail a letter in the morning and have it arrive at its destination by the afternoon mail. I'm still not sure how they did it, considering there were no postal codes and everything was manually sorted. Amazing. At Christmas, all the boys in the neighbourhood would get temporary jobs as postmen and we'd have non-stop deliveries, sometimes only an hour apart for the three weeks up to Christmas Day.

I used to love writing letters, and I still have boxes of letters I've received, from family, friends and old boyfriends. But now, I'm not sure I could write a whole letter without getting hand cramps or a repetitive strain injury, it's been so long. You're right, Laura. If we lose the post office, it will be our own faults.

moi said...

I recently finished The Forsyte Saga and dang if every character wasn't at some point, "posting a letter that should reach its recipient by mid day." I was all, huh? Thanks for the historic clarification.

By the way, I still write all Christmas cards, birthday greetings, and thank you notes by hand. I'm determinedly Luddite when it comes to correspondence.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Rol - aw that's so sweet that you've still got a snail mail friend. Mind you, I've still got a couple of much older cousins down south who haven't yet joined the computer age and require the Victorian internet!

Yes Steve, nothing can replace the joys of a letter (with handwriting on) landing on the mat! And it's harder to spy on the mail - or rather they'd have to re-open all those sorting offices they've closed down for starters and hire massive numbers of staff (which we'd notice).

I'd wear Victorian dresses in a heartbeat RB. But not the laced types - I wouldn't care about having an unnaturally narrow waist! Hurrah that you support the Libraries too.

Unfortunately the business side of the Royal Mail is largely the profitable chunk which was sold off in UK WWW, so a surge in that area alone would not save it, and I speak as a regular internet purchaser myself, supporting parcel post at least. I think Rail will enjoy its renaissance simply because the roads won't be able to take it any more and regardless of when the oil runs out (by which time they should have perfected an alternative fuel car).

Geoff, I know what you mean about the world speeding up. And not liking your own handwriting too - I am not overly fond of mine, which is only ok if I labour over it for hours!

Garfer - you have a point there. Shall you be at the cutting edge of this initiative? (ie are you breeding some ready?)

Nota bene - e-mail me your address and I'll see if I can perform a Jim'll Fix It for you!

Kaz, you've just touched upon one of my major hobby horses - ie how come the Victorians could build things to last for centuries and most of our buildings are only intended to last about 40 years or so?

Tessa - yes I've still got a box full of old love letters from teen years. The trouble is whenever I allow myself to read one, I find myself wanting to reply with the benefit of x number of years hindsight! Blimey, that does sound like a great mail service you enjoyed in childhood!

Moi - excellent to hear you are doing your bit for the Stateside Yes The Forsyte Saga is something else - a most riveting saga. I can recommend the 1960s box set of DVDs too.

JamaGenie said...

In the U.S. at least, right about the time the internet and email came into general use, the US Postal Service raised the price of postage for letters and packages, cut staff in post offices and sorting facilities, and then wondered why volume and revenue dropped. Oh and UPS and FedEx came along with next-day delivery, something USPS had long ago forgotten how to do, even across-town.

I can remember as a kid, during the month before Christmas mail would be delivered twice a day, even on Saturdays and Sundays! But I'm ever amazed when reading or watching anything Victorian how a letter posted in the morning is always delivered the same day, and flabbergasted when a reply arrives in the afternoon.

Victorian internet? Yes indeed!