Communication is as essential to mankind as water is to fish. It is through communication that information is passed, cultural heritage is transferred, knowledge is imparted, and people are entertained, among other functions. Communication can be intra-personal, inter-personal, and mass, when it targets a heterogenous audience that is sparsely distributed.
Over the years, communication has evolved from the traditional mode, when metal and wooden gongs, signs, and other instruments of communication were used to satisfy the communication needs of man, to the modern mode. But despite how crude the instruments of traditional mode of communication were termed to be, the most important thing is that they filled the communication gap between man and his neighbours.
As technology advanced, emphasis was shifted from the oral form of communication to the written form. This era witnessed the written form of communication, known as letter writing. Letter writing can be informal, semi- formal or formal. This form of communication boosted the socio- economic communication needs of man in terms of business, human relationships, just to mention but a few.
Letters were used to secure employment through job applications; inform distant relatives about the happenings at home, such as sickness, death of loved ones, marriages. They were used to convey demands for school fees from children to their parents or distant relatives, demands for money for the upkeep of aged parents at home. Though the feedback process of letters was slow, it was effective.
The further advancement of technology witnessed the advent of the internet. The internet, which is referred to a global network of information that is transmitted to billions of computers and devices that are operated from various entities, such as education, government and businesses that follow specific protocols, has reshaped the communication world and has taken a huge toll on other medium of communication that existed before it.
It may not be ambiguous to state here that the worst hit is letter-writing. The advent of the internet has placed letter-writing on the fringe of extinction. The current trend in communication has placed electronic mail (e-mail) and telephony above letter-writing. The importance, which was initially attached to letter-writing, is more or less eroded.
One institution that this trend has seriously hampered is the Nigeria Postal Services (NIPOST). The history of postal services in Nigeria dates back to 1852, when the colonial administration established the first post office. NIPOST is responsible for the designing and printing of postage stamps in Nigeria. Before now, Nigerians relied heavily on NIPOST for their day-to-day communication needs. The current trend where youths have adopted the quicker means of communication such as instant messaging has subjected NIPOST to redundancy and reduced our post offices to mere collection centres for dividend warrants.
Besides, the writing skills of our youths have been seriously battered under this trend. They can now hardly construct a flawless English sentence. The vogue now is Short Messages Service (SMS), also known as text message, which renders the actual meaning of words distorted through hieroglyphic abbreviations. Students can hardly differentiate when an address of letter is block style with punctuation, block style without punctuation or slant style. They can hardly differentiate a formal letter from semi-formal and informal letters. They can now hardly differentiate between the complimentary opening, the body of the letter or the complimentary closing.
The art of letter-writing should not be allowed to go extinct because it is of historical importance.When we talk of historical values of letters, mention must be made of the letter from S.C Nicholson and W.H Wood to Secretaries of Trades’ Councils, Federation of Trades, and Trades Societies (16 April, 1866); the letter from the Duchess of Gloucester to Queen Victoria (2 May, 1851); the letter from Charles Darwin to Asa Gray (22 May, 1860); and the letter from John Russell to the Bishop of Durham (4 November, 1850). These letters conveyed pieces of vital information that helped in shaping the society.
However, all hope is not lost. Intensive and collaborative efforts should be mounted to ensure that the art of letter-writing does not go extinct. NIPOST, in collaboration with secondary schools, should organise letter- writing competitions, where winners would be handsomely rewarded through cash gifts and scholarship; our education adminstrators should mount intensive letter- writing tutorials in both our primary and secondary schools; employers of labour should make it compulsory that applicants to job vacancies would be strictly assessed through hand-written applications.
All hands must be on deck to ensure that this cherished culture of letter-writing does not go extinct. A stitch in time saves nine!
Ukegbu, a public policy analyst and communication strategist, writes from Umuahia, Abia State.