Nor Gloom of Night
“Mail moves the country and Zip Code moves the mail.” Mr. Zip, cartoon U.S. Postal worker, July 1, 1963
By 1963, mail in this country had gotten so heavy and unwieldy that a national system called “zip code” was put into place to get it under control and allow for more efficient delivery. Today, if my home is any indication, more mail than ever is delivered by the Post Office. But there is a difference in 2009 and 1963. Now it is all an enormous waste.
In 1963 you looked forward to getting the mail. There might be a letter from someone you had not communicated with in awhile. Today you just e-mail that person or pick up the phone and call them, no matter where they are. A long distance phone call was a big thing in 1963 (had to call the operator)and, of course there was no e-mail. Even deciding whether to send a letter by airmail was a big decision because an airmail stamp cost three or four more cents than a regular delivery stamp. “What’s the hurry ?”.
Today the mail is made up, almost exclusively of communications asking you for money. Think about it, you get bills and political and charitable solicitations and enough catalogues on a daily basis to herniate a disk. Even magazines are more than 50% ads today. All of these things are screaming for just a little bit of your money, except for those which are screaming for a whole lot of your money. I would say that the majority of mail we get each year goes unopened ,and yet mail still consumes important parts of everyone’s life and time. When we purchased our home in 1996, we were very proud of the nice formal dining room where we could seat eight for magnificent dinner parties. Today, that room and the table within it are used, almost exclusively to hold and sort mail which piles up each week with the latest offerings of clothing, jewelry, electronics and such. Some days it looks like an old fashioned paper drive, and I suppose that is my point.
How long can we go on like this ? Everything we get in the mail could be delivered by e-mail. If there is one thing that is certain, on the list of jobs to encourage your kids to take, mail carrier should not be high on the list. I probably won’t live to see the demise of the U.S. mails service (as we now know it) but my daughter will. I imagine that if we really wanted to invest in infrastructure, we would just buy a simple computer and printer for everyone in America and switch to an all e-mail economy. What’s the problem with that ? To begin with, believe it or not, the U.S. Postal service trails only the Department of Defense and Wal-Mart as the biggest employer in the country. At least with Wal-Mart and the DoD we are being provided with things we need. Wal-Mart will soon be the only store in the country where any of us can afford to shop. While the DoD wastes more money than anyone else in the country, we at least never had a Russian Army coming ashore to extinguish capitalism. So I guess we got something for our money.
The Post Office is different. That’s 800,000 people doing something that does not really need to be done, at least on the scale at which it is done. From an ecological view alone, think how many trees can be saved if we just stopped delivering those letters which no one ever opens. Now the bad side is that puts a lot of lumberjacks and mail sorters out of business. Maybe they can help install all the new computers the government would be handing out.
The sad part of this is that, in a simpler time, the mail was such a nice thing. In 1900, I bet getting a Montgomery Ward’s Catalogue was greeted like a national holiday in rural America. Even in my youth, the first toy catalogues of the Christmas season would keep my brother and I enthralled for hours. When my mom needed a break, she’d take the new toy catalogue and tell us to go to our rooms and circle what we wanted for Christmas . One year we circled everything. Even the “Tiny Tears” doll which could, amazingly, wet it’s diaper after you fed it. I did not receive that doll that year. Who knows which direction my life would have taken if I had ? (Not that there’s anything wrong with it).
Letters from friends and family were the best things. The whole family would read them and call other friends and read the letter to them. Today, most of us talk to people via e-mail all over the country every day. Waiting for a letter in order to find out anything new is inconceivable. But things are not as much fun. Just like it’s not as much fun to read an e-mail spam item as it is to look at a catalogue, or to buy a book on line as it is to go to a book store or a downtown department store. But those days are gone for good, alas and the mail carrier will soon follow. That’s what will be missed. I love my mail carrier. He is a gentleman and the happiest of men. He leaves small treats for my dog at out front door each day and never fails to wave and say hi when I see him down the street. We won’t get that anymore. But we also won’t get thousands of pages of junk material that must be sorted through and toss into recycling bins. I guess that you have to take the good with the bad.