Under the ''education'' tab of the Australia Post website, there is a page that opens with a quaint lesson for young students.
The enthusiastic explainer reads: Communication has not always been about wall posts, status updates, texts, tweets or emails...
It is the beginning of a basic but meandering online lesson covering everything from hieroglyphics to rock paintings, feather quills to the printing press, carrier pigeons to pack mules.
For those of us who grew up on postcards and love letters and printed bank statements, the subtext is plain: Your beloved snail mail will soon become part of this history lesson. The letter is doomed.
Physical mail volume peaked in Australia in 2008 and has declined ever since. In the past five years, the number of letters posted has dropped from 5.3 billion (2009) to 4.5 billion (2013).
Some Australia Post estimates suggest the decline is ready to pick up exponential speed. Other insiders believe the letter will not go peacefully into the good night but could instead linger for another two decades. At this moment in the 205-year history of the organisation, uncertainty is the only constant - except for one.
The one constant is the ever-present niggling need (or civic duty) for Australia Post to meet its Community Service Obligations - to provide a quick and reliable letter service at a single domestic rate, to all Australians, while maintaining 10,000 mail boxes and 4000 post offices.
This is a gargantuan and expensive task, which has become harder with an expanding population. In the past five years, the number of addresses in Australia has grown from 10.5 million to 11.2 million.
A root and branch review of the company was needed and conducted. Changes have been made and more are forecast - everything from Saturday package delivery to extended hours at post offices.
The most recent and controversial adjustment was the shedding of 900 head office jobs this week, although the losses would not have come as a surprise. The US Postal Service has shed more than 170,000 jobs since 2006. The Royal Mail in Britain has similarly trimmed more than 50,000 jobs since 2003.
These cuts dwarf the 900 positions eliminated at Australia Post, but as Communication Workers Union secretary Joan Doyle points out, 500 more positions were lost to attrition in 2013 (as a result of a hiring freeze) and more than 1000 other positions have been made temporary. The full-time equivalent losses over a four-year period could be closer to 2500. And this is the beginning - not the end.
Company chief executive Ahmed Fahour has confirmed he is lobbying the federal government to reduce the community service obligation that demands delivery five days per week, leading to fears of more job losses.
The more Australia Post squeezes, the more it kills the letter.
It remains to be seen whether the public are willing to accept wholesale changes being made to a national asset that is still regarded by many to be our most trusted brand.
The cost of stamps increased from 60¢ to 70¢ last year, a move softened by an exemption for pensioners (who can buy 50 stamps per year at the old 60¢ price, and also get five free stamps each year).
That mild change was made possible with permission from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, but postal agents have reported growing consumer grumbling about added charges for ever-so-slightly heavier or wider letters.
If that pettifogging led to bellyaching, then wait until the new ''two speed'' service is rolled out. With very little fanfare this month, businesses in Australia were able to choose the speed of their delivery based on price - an arrangement similar to the ''second class stamps'' system used by the Royal Mail in Britain.
That there has been little outcry over implementation is a big win for Australia Post, given that 95 per cent of all letter mail is sent by businesses, corporations and government. The same system will be rolled out to the public in 2015.
Professor Stephen King, of Monash University, points out that different price points for different services is nothing new to the company. Bulk mailing and international shipping have long had stratified pricing.
And yet it is also equally clear that changes to the core business of sending letters - delivery on fewer days, or in a less timely fashion - would be widely felt.
Professor King, an economist and former member of the ACCC, explains that the more Australia Post tries to increase revenue without offering anything new, the more individuals and companies will turn online. That could be a person giving up on Christmas cards, or an organisation going paperless with the company newsletter.
''The more Australia Post squeezes, the more it kills the letter,'' he said.
Which brings us to the man assisting the euthanisation, Mr Fahour.
He makes himself an easy target for upset stakeholders. Remarks of his about spending less time in the office and more time on the factory floor seem tailored for blue collar appeal, but seldom succeed given his extensive connection to a blue chip universe (including board membership at Methodist Ladies College and the Carlton Football Club).
The issue of executive salaries could be seen as a distraction given the stakes of situation at Australia Post, but certainly in the postal community there is significant anger at his remuneration.
Mr Fahour was paid $4.75 million last year. By contrast, Royal Mail CEO Moya Greene is paid £1.2 million ($A2.14 million). As recently as 2012, US Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe received $US512,093 ($A544,000) - a figure that was itself decried as exorbitant despite Mr Donahoe running a $65 billion business with responsibility for more than half a million staff.
Mr Fahour is also fond of emotive language, whether forecasting the potential ''extinction'' of the organisation or lamenting the regulated letter business ''bleeding money'', and this frankness does not endear him to all.
''Without change and reform to letter services, we do not have the ability to absorb this loss and could, for the first time since corporatisation, become a cost to the government and ultimately the taxpayer,'' he has said.
Hidden in that statement is a fact lost on many in this debate. Despite mail use having peaked and letters making a regular loss, Australia Post is still profitable -including $312 million last financial year. Revenue has increased over the past five years by $1 billion.
The image of a sinking behemoth is easily sold to the public, but the organisation returned a 2013 dividend to the government of $244 million - and paid taxes of $447 million.
Thanks are due in large part to the packages business StarTrack Express - the parcel delivery arm of Australia Post. In 2013 for instance, the losses made in the regulated mail side of the business, mostly letters ($218 million), were easily picked up by profits on the non-regulated side, mostly parcels ($648 million).
Indeed, for the first time in two centuries, Australia Post is now predominantly a parcel delivery business. With the rise of online trading and a strong Aussie dollar, parcel delivery accounts for 45 per cent of total revenue. Almost three-quarters of all parcel deliveries are a direct result of online shopping.
The simple question, of course, is why can’t this increase in package profits offset the losses in letters? The city subsidises the country - why can’t parcels subsidise the post?
The issue is that parcel post is an increasingly competitive sector, and reinvesting in next-generation technology is paramount. While other logistics companies such as Toll and TNT can return a profit to investors and still sink large tranches of cash into equipment and development, Australia Post must return a dividend to the government while also compensating for significant losses in its core business - a business it is bound to by law.
With this in mind, and with one eye on the rollout of the National Broadband Network, Australia Post is instead repositioning itself for a digital future, namely with the MyPost Digital Mailbox.
The ambitious dream for this potentially late-to-the-party initiative is that it will become a one-stop shop for email, banking, paying bills and receiving government documents. The push into digital is part of a broader long-term strategic goal to widen the spectrum of services offered not only online, but also in post offices (which the company now calls ''retail stores'').
The strategy makes sense, as it will not be easy for rural Australia to give up its unique connection to the post office, which in many areas is still an indispensable part of the social fabric.
Sixty per cent of Australia Post’s 4429 retail outlets operate in remote and regional Australia. They remain a community hub, hive of activity and a significant retail sales point. A quarter of a century ago they sold little more than money orders and stamps, but now it is not uncommon to buy everything from pots and pans to hosiery.
Ian Kerr, of the Post Office Agents Association Limited, said his organisation was pushing for more basic government business - such as filing payslips with Centrelink, driver's licence renewals and payment of local council bills - to be conducted through post offices. He believes they are ideally positioned to offer trusted services.
''Post offices already do passports - can you get any more security conscious document than a passport?'' he said.
The company may have grander plans than that, having already offered to be more heavily involved in federal elections. (Australia Post provides citizens with voter enrolment forms, but could potentially expand into managing the electoral roll and, perhaps, one day, secure electronic voting.)
Of course, all of this development is costly. At the end of this financial year, the company could come close to breaking even or posting an overall loss for only the second time in its history. Yet the letter trade will not be the sole factor.
The company has invested in new cross-belt sorters so that mechanical arms and barcodes are used to sort packages rather than human hands. The motorbikes ridden by posties could one day make way for zero-emission electric vans, a handful of which are being trialled in Melbourne and Sydney. And Mr Fahour has overseen much of the company infrastructure being divided and re-branded.
''It’s easy to see what he’s doing - he’s fattening the cow,” says Ms Doyle, one of many people who believe the change agent Fahour only remains at the helm on the chance that the government will opt to privatise and he will benefit.
Partial and full privatisation of postal services is not new. Examples include Germany, Holland, Austria and, more recently, Britain.
But most believe the time is not right to sell Australia Post - that if anything it should have been sold a decade ago, before the decline of the letter. (There is anger in Britain, for instance, that the Royal Mail was sold too cheaply, providing a quick sugar hit but no lasting benefit.)
And yet privatisation may be the only manoeuvre left in the (distant) future.
When the NBN is finally complete, it will have its own set of community service obligations - namely universal broadband internet access with uniform pricing - which could render obsolete the obligations of Australia Post. Once that occurs, experts say it would make little sense for the government to maintain control of what would in essence be nothing more than a very good parcel company.
The real question is how this country is going to deal with the death of the standard letter, and the only answer can be ''gradually'' - and with special assistance to those who require a careful weaning.
Few among us experience the pleasure of a personal letter in the mailbox any more. We prefer our dopamine rush in the form of tiny red Facebook alerts, tweet notifications and unread emails.
Professor King notes that just as today's generation marvels at the quaint notion of glass bottles of milk delivered by horse and cart, so too will the next generation likely look back on our archaic ways with a smile.
''Can you imagine telling them that men used to ride motorbikes from door to door, dropping off pieces of paper?'' he asked. ''They won’t believe you.''
FACTS AND FIGURES
32,732 (including roughly 14,000 delivery staff)
4429 (761 corporate versus 3668 licensed; 1858 metropolitan versus 2561 regional)
Street posting boxes
Trucks, vans and motorbikes
Proportion of letters from business/government
95 per cent
2011: 5 billion letters
2013: 4.6 billion letters
2011: $4.9 billion
2013: $5.9 billion
2011: $241 million
2013: $312 million
Loss on letters
2011: -$122 million
2013: -$218 million
Profit on parcels
2011: $457 million
2013: $648 million.