Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Save the Post Office -- Write a Letter!

About a month ago, I was helping my parents with the last detail of their move from our town to a town in Arizona: I turned in their Post Office box keys. But, before I could do that, I had to take out whatever mail was still there in the box. A week had gone by, and the box was stuffed to the gills, to the point that there was a half-full overflow Postal bin that I had to collect at the counter.

I sorted through everything at home, after I turned the keys in. Out of that half bin, there were twelve pieces of actual mail; the rest was ads and direct mail catalogs.

I sighed at the waste.

At one time, I worked in the Direct Mail industry at a merge/purge shop. You could add your name and address to the seed names list, and receive copies of any catalog you wanted. (People on the seed names list receive the catalogs, or other mailing pieces from the direct mail campaign, so that they can check to make sure the mailing was done properly.) After a while, I took my name and address off the seed lists, but added that information to the Direct Marketing Association’s Preference File. This file is used to suppress the names and addresses on it from mailing campaigns, so that people won’t get tons of unwanted mail. People might get catalogs from companies they like, but then those companies either sell or exchange your name and address to other like companies—just an extra way to get either more money or more names.

What I found out was that I didn’t want to receive a whole lot of catalogs because I didn’t want to constantly buy things.

There is, after all, only so much room for furniture, cooking utensils and clothes in one’s life. All the things we own, including our image, require care and upkeep. And there are catalogs that sell products and implements to handle the care and upkeep of our image and our stuff. Of course, this all adds up to more stuff and things and gewgaws and wobbity-wobbits and round-to-its and widgets and just plain junk.

The other thing that happened, while I was working in the direct marketing industry, was the rise of the now ubiquitous personal computer, followed closely by the advent and eventual explosion of internet. Quite suddenly, it seemed, everyone could get in touch by electronic mail. Wow!

So, what happened? People stopped writing letters and our United States Postal Employees have become slaves who annually shoulder millions of pounds of bulk third-class mail, bills, circular ads and not a whole lot else.

Now the cry is out to abandon our United States Postal Service, opting instead for all mail being handled by privatized services. The claim is that this will cut bureaucracy and save the taxpayers and the government millions upon zillions of dollars.

I say that this is a bad idea. The US Postal Service has been one of the longest running services that people have been able to depend upon, often when there was nothing else to depend upon. Because the service is run centrally, it has established distribution hubs, transportation routes and flight patterns. There are regulations about what is proper to mail (nothing liquid, perishable, potentially hazardous, etc.) and there are regulated postage fees. You generally have an idea when your mail will be delivered, and you sometimes really count on that!

The privatized business community claims to know better how to run just about any enterprise. But we all know that serving the “bottom line” would require cost cutting in areas ill suited to cuts. I would not be surprised to see disrupted and irregular service, no guarantees of arrival time for time-sensitive material, along with no recourse for disputes. Workers rights would undoubtedly be infringed upon and there would be sharp rise in worker’s compensation claims, due to workers having to deal with irregular packaging and potentially dangerous packages. This would lead to sharp rises in insurance premiums and health care. A complete dismantling of regulated pricing would be a detriment to the public. In short, dismantling of postal regulations could pose potential danger to the public, as well as anyone working in the postal industry.

The business side of mailing aside, I would like to say a few words about history. One of the reasons we know so much about life and thought in previous generations is because of two types of artifacts: letters and ephemera (all those little bits of paper that have doodles, drawings, notes, ads and other things printed or hand written on their surfaces). Since the invention of the telephone, everyone has been writing and actually thinking less. The invention of the typewriter, eventually morphing into what we now call keyboarding, has had the mixed impact of allowing more people to communicate by means of clear and even text, but to the detriment that few people are able to write legibly by hand.

When people talk to one another, the tendency is to think less before speaking. Letter writing takes more time and thought put toward a flow and organization of ideas. Because so much of our communication is ephemeral, dissipating into the ether either by digital deletion or by vocal immediacy, it goes unrecorded. What record will remain of the existence of this generation? Ephemera in the form of catalogs? A few poorly edited newspapers? How will people know what YOU thought about LIFE? Will it be as if you never existed, after you are gone?

Oh, no, no… That is unthinkable. But I want you to think on it.

I am advocating a year (or the rest of your life) of less distraction. Don’t give up your computer, don’t stop social networking or blogging. Do take the time to think, and to organize your thoughts. Do write a letter to someone you love and appreciate. Share your struggles, your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams.

History, and the United States Postal Service, will thank you.

Meanwhile, if you want help the environment by receiving less mail, register your preferences here:

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