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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Letters, email, and man's love for paper

Remember the postman: he used to drop in a few letters for us – the occasional greeting cards, letters from near and dear ones, and letters from abroad carrying foreign stamps. The big day was when one used to get registered letters- often bringing good news- a scholarship, or an invitation to some prestigious occasion. Courier days were also fun- often bringing gifts from relatives. Then came email, chat, Skype, cheap STD/ISD and mass-mobile. And I haven’t received a single registered letter for the last ten years in my life (Of course, it is also purely co-incidental that nothing great has occurred for the last ten years of my life).

One obvious conclusion is that email, chat, and cheaper telephony have reduced the need for sending letters. But think again; while urban people have stopped writing letters to each other, that role has been taken up by corporates. And they have taken up this role with magnificent gusto. Everyday, when I reach home from office, there are 4-5 letters waiting for me – different bills, account statements, financial transaction details, and of course, an enormous variety of promotional materials. Indeed, globally, business posts make up bulk of all postal deliveries. With liberalization, increasing competition, and growth of consumer facing business, the same pattern will emerge in India.

But then, it was always foolish to expect that new methods of communication would wipe away the physical postal system. After all, somewhere along the process of evolution, men have developed an affinity for paper. So, it is always more convenient to read a paper magazine or newspaper, rather than an online version. The best example of man’s affinity for paper can be found when one is traveling via air. Have you ever counted the number of times your boarding pass is touched (and apparently verified) by people at the airports? Just today, my boarding pass was touched by 9 people (other than myself), sometimes standing within three feet of one another. Surely, such a process cannot be for any verification purpose, but only to satisfy man’s urge to touch paper. And till such habits remain, everything which uses paper will live on.


Jaggy said...

Hi Das,

Its been ages since i wrote a letter... I dont remember, having written any ketter in the recent past... Mostly emails... and in the worst case it will be printouts...

Smile at the Past with Pride and Grace
Live each today with Joy and Verve
Look at every tommorrow with Hope And Faith
This year may all your efforts be rewarded
and all your dreams come true
Wishing U a Happy New Year

Ashish Gupta said...

While your conclusion is something I feel too (that letters won't go away) your arguments/post does not support this. Businesses already have option to "turn-off" paper statements, and as internet penetrates further, and becomes more trustworthy, it will happen eventually. I get all the statements by mail but I never really read them, checking/paying online is so much easier. Feel paper magazines is understandable but it will not help save the postman.

Yohan said...

You wouldn't happen to be the Shivaji Das from Stephen's?

Shivaji said...

No, I am not, Yohan

Kaps said...

A small observation....

most of the corporate mailers, bills, bank and credit card statements etc flow through big time / small time courier companies. these corporate establishments use couriers as they are more efficient and sometime cost effective as well.

I agree that physical postal system will continue to carry important documents and parcels. Post offices are already looking for alternate modes of revenue to make up for the lost revenue. Last heard that post offices will be selling tea in some parts of India.