We love to hate it. I am referring to our daily dose of “junk mail.” It may be tossed into the recycling bin while hunting for something of substance., but we are reluctant to dismiss it altogether. There is something life affirming about viewing a crisp envelope with my name and my address correctly spelled and staring back at me, even if the contents are of minimal interest. It is a form of proof of life, of a unique existence, if only on a mailing list, and that someone somewhere wants to communicate a message directly to me.
Perhaps this sounds like I am over-thinking the issue, but during the two years I lived in China, I received virtually no mail. The state mail system was slow, unpredictable, unreliable and insecure. In addition, it was inconvenient. Post offices were rare and mailboxes nonexistent. The Direct Marketing industry, which fuels much of our daily mail, skipped its paper stage and relies on electronic communication through e-mail and mobile phones. It was during this time I realized that I missed the daily ritual of perusing and sorting the mail when I returned home each day from work.
Last year the U.S. Postal Service lost $8.5 billion while, for the first time, more than 50% of consumer bills were paid online. So our use of snail mail has declined and there is pressure to make some changes in the system. Unfortunately, I predict a battle as Congress and President Obama struggle with strategies to reduce this red ink. The Postal Service generates more than seven million American jobs, so massive cuts have consequences beyond daily service to consumers and businesses. Of course we would miss the daily mail and we resist any changes in routine. So stay tuned, recipients of snail mail. Compromise is a difficult concept these days and there are no simple solutions to complicated problems. The mail moves through rain, sleet, snow and dark of night, but Washington, D.C. may be a greater impediment.