To whom it may concern,
I wish we were writing under better circumstances, but I’m afraid your time is almost up. It’s the cost of living you see. £1.25 for a rectangle of sticky-backed paper, not to mention the hideously overpriced range of cards on offer these days. Call us pessimistic, but we rather feel the writing’s on the wall once manufacturers have resorted to the world of — usually alcohol-related, invariably crude — visual humour. Don’t even get us started on the puns.
Better to quit while you’re ahead. After all, no one can deny you’ve had a good run. Over two thousand years, no less. From your humble origins upon the wax tablets of antiquity, your pages have coordinated the minds of radical thinkers; they have forged connections across oceans and mountain ranges, and given voice to the most intimate thoughts of humankind. Not for nothing were you commandeered by the Romantics. Your fragile, thumb-worn pages are, in a way, a reminder of our own impermanence.
You have kept some of our greatest minds alive. We’ve dedicated whole compendiums to the correspondence of historical ‘illustrious’ minds, from Mary Stuart to Lady Mary Montagu, via Ernest Hemingway and Leo Tolstoy in between. Governed as you are by changing conventions, you are as much an object of human sentiment as you are a historical artefact, but somehow your contents continue to inspire audiences far and wide.
There’s something about your air of mystery, you see — your command of anticipation. Not for you the banality of ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. Your contents are not broadcast (rather reductively) as a variant of ‘Urgent’, ‘Order Dispatched’ or ‘YOU*VE WON AN IPHONE 15!!’. Scarcely a chapter of Austen’s novels pass by without the protagonist waiting in “half agony, half hope” for the days’ post, and similar feelings afflict the eleventh birthdays of children up and down the country when — despite determined efforts to commandeer the Cupboard Under the Stairs — our much-anticipated owls fail to materialise. Clearly, you promise a sense of hope and excitement that emails have simply failed to capture.
Nonetheless, we regret to inform you that time is short for us too. Judging by the HS2 budget, it’s apparent that mere minutes of our commute are worth around one hundred billion pounds of public expenditure, so don’t take our decision too personally. Your dismissal is merely the next step in society’s ‘streamlining’ project — we’ve already exploited every potential use for the aptly named ‘Zoom’.
You can’t say you didn’t see it coming. Quaint as they were, Aunt Muriel’s cursive flicks were so tedious to decipher — not to mention Godfather Joe’s near illegible alligator scrawl. In the interest of productivity, a consensus of Calibri (body) — font size 12 — is obviously the way forward. Handwriting, after all, is so passé. Is it any wonder that our annual Christmas card haul has dwindled to zero, given the physical strain demanded by a few lines of good will? We’ll admit, the pre-stamped greetings were a smart innovation on your behalf, but why bother with the arduous task of signing one’s name when trusty ChatGPT can compose entire emails of its own volition? Incredible, really, the way one doesn’t even need to read messages anymore — you already know exactly what’s coming.
That’s before you even get to the point of posting the thing. After a painstaking investigation of address books, there comes the ultimate display of self-sacrifice: the inescapable lick of adhesive sealant. This trauma dealt with (but nonetheless lingering on the senses) one is faced with the walk to the Post Office, where affections are once again tested, this time by the demand for — I repeat — £1.25. I mean, really — we’re in danger of making our recipients think we actually care for them.
So, to appropriate the lyricisms of some of today’s great letter writers: Thank You — We’re Sorry That You’re Leaving. What with Brexit, COVID, tightening budgets, and so on, there’s simply no room for you anymore. It’s a shame our successors won’t be able to peruse our correspondence for inspiration — but then we seemed to have rather dried up on that front anyway. Perhaps they’ll take solace in our new shrine to humanity: Email. After all, nothing quite beats that butterfly feeling of yet another message flying — ignored — into our inboxes. Perhaps we’ve found the key to a contactless society after all.
Yours (not so) faithfully,
Society At Large
Illustration by: Isabelle Holloway