language

Nothing stops the mail

I heard on the news today that Australia Post now earns more income from parcels related to online retail sales than to standard mail.

That’s no great surprise – the very fact that you are reading this online is evidence of that! 

But while we have seen the steady decline of non-digital correspondence, I would caution people who think that the letter, personally addressed in a stamped envelope has had its day as an effective communication medium.

In fact, I think there is something incredibly powerful now about receiving a letter that’s been personally addressed, hand-crafted, perhaps even handwritten.

One of my great regrets in life is having poor handwriting.  I envy people who can write in a script that is crisp to the eye and easy to read compared to my bird-scratchings.

I feel this most at times when I want to convey deeply personal messages to family or friends, perhaps after a bereavement or to mark some happier time like a special birthday or engagement.

My best efforts are usually typed and occasionally I even feel the need to apologise by simply explaining that the thoughts are genuinely felt but conveyed via computer simply to ensure readability.

Whether typed or hand written, the main advantage of the good old snail mail letter is its ability to convey a personal message and to illustrate effort in not being content with photocopied feelings.

If a picture paints a thousand words, so does a crafted, personal note.  It cuts-through the noise of a world so crammed full of messages that we are struggling for meaning. 

Yours sincerely,

John.

 

Don't mention the war!

One of my favourite moments in British comedy is the episode of Fawlty Towers with Basil and the German restaurant guest.

I’m sure you’ll know immediately what I am talking about, Basil having made a total ass of himself, leans over and advises staff: Whatever you do, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!

I couldn’t help but think of Basil in reading of an instruction to Qantas employees to avoid wishing people a happy Christmas.  At risk of being culturally insensitive, I rather suspect that the word “Christmas” is interpreted fairly generically to mean the expenditure of significant amounts of money, along with the consumption of copious quantities of food and alcohol.  In a world where church attendance has plunged, perhaps with the exception of the Islamic world, I doubt Christmas carries too much religious weight.

And yet senior management seem to attach a lot of meaning to words – and wield them almost in the fashion of a weapon to guide thoughts and behaviour.  Over the years I have frequently encountered words that are explicitly banned.  I know of one major conglomerate that ordered people to stop using the word “strategy”, another that banned the use of the word “sales”. 

Years ago I agonised over the changing the name of our news program from Seven Nightly News to Seven News.  I can still recall the sage advice of our advertising strategist at the time: John, what do people call your news?  When I thought about it, they probably called it a whole bunch of things but what they meant was more about the nightly habit of switching on to hear from their friends Rick and Sue (the news presenters).  My angst over the name was unwarranted – and so we changed – and no one noticed. 

In my experience, banning words tends to backfire.  Focus more on helping people to understand the intent and meaning of what you are trying to convey.  As for Christmas…I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it! 

Happy…you know what….