Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Neither Rain, Nor Snow . . .

Just noticed that the US Postal Service has decided to close hundreds of post offices across the country. Reason: people aren't writing letters anymore, businesses aren't sending as many circulars, people aren't paying their bills by mail, and magazines have skinnied down so they are lighter and therefore cheaper to send. And of course, USPS is losing money. $7 billion projected for this year. And according to the GAO, they're not innovating nearly fast enough--despite the regular and, so it seems to me, more frequent increases in rates.

All perfectly understandable, except maybe the business flier part. Don't know about you, but you couldn't deduce this from what appears in my mail every day. I can honestly tell you that there are probably fewer than one in a hundred of the pieces of junk mail we get that gets read or even glanced at. Junk mail goes automatically into the recycle bin. This cannot be a unique procedure. Doesn't everybody do this? And one other thing: how much waste and environmentally destruction is represented by junk mail? To me, it's on a par with bottled water, 98 percent of packaging, and disposable anythings as symbols of our profligate late-capitalistic lifestyle. (FYI, you can get great instructions about how to reduce your own personal level of junk advertising right here. By the way, no, everybody doesn't dispose of junk mail without reading it. According the link just cited, only half of the junk mail goes in the trash unread. And are you ready for this? Amount of junk mail sent each year: 400 million tons!)

Of course people aren't writing letters anymore. They have email. Even people without computers have email. Have you checked the banks of publicly accessible computers in libraries lately? Always jammed. The days when people would sit down and actually handscribe a letter to family or friends are as gone as the dodo bird. But, boy, don't you love getting them? I think the future of Christmas cards, another huge category of mailed matter, is also grim. Everybody's noticed a drop in their numbers of cards, simultaneously with the paring down of their own Christmas mailing lists.

And skinny magazines? Like newspapers, magazines are struggling to stay alive. As advertising shrinks, so does the bulk of magazines. Pretty soon, not many of them are going to be around either.

Everything we're talking about here is emblematic of the post-modern world we now inhabit. Old ways go, new ways come. The intrepid mail-carrier in the snow, sleet, and rain going about his appointed rounds, even he won't be able to survive the way the winds are blowing now.
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