Friday, February 3, 2012

Snail Mail Rocks!

This morning I realized that I now have seven -- 7! -- email boxes.  No secret, either, how I acquired so many, gradually, over time.  It began with the first, my personal email.  I then opened a general business email, followed by a fiction writing business email.  My college alma mater gave me an email box. My email situation remained there for a couple years.  Then I decided that my novel series needed its own email, followed six months later by an email for this commentary blog. Finally, I have an email devoted almost exclusively to spam.

Credit: John Phelan
If I were to do the same with the US Postal Service (USPS), I'd have my residence mailbox and have to rent six more mailboxes.  They'd love me, I'm sure, for the money I'd be paying, but it would be an expensive proposition for me.  And that's one of the reasons the USPS has been waging a losing competition against email.  We perceive email to be free because we don't consider the internet provider costs or cost of owning a computer as costs to use email.  We see email as fast, convenient and versatile.  Anyone younger than about 35, though, prefers texting -- email is too "formal."  The courts accept email as legal writing, so an agreement done via email is as legally binding as any other written form.

However, first class mail has its advantages.  It does?  Yes.  First and foremost it provides complete privacy.  It is against the law to steal or open someone else's mail.  A first class letter does not go through servers, sit on servers, or get eaten up by servers.  Email accounts, unfortunately, can be hacked, the address stolen and used for nefarious purposes.  If you use the same username and/or password for your email as you use for other online accounts, especially anything regarding money like online banking or shopping, you are vulnerable to losing a lot of money if they are stolen.  The USPS offers a secure, private service with the foundation and experience of over 150 years.
Credit: USPS

Another characteristic that I consider a plus for first class mail is that it's an original hard copy.  Yes, we can print out emails.  Yes, we now have electronic signatures.  But in my mind, there's no substitute or real alternative to someone's signature at the bottom of a letter on a piece of real paper.  There's also no substitute for the happiness I feel when I open my mailbox and find a first class letter there.  The best ones are from friends, but I also enjoy hearing from people I do business with.  And direct mail?  Compared with spam, junk mail is hardly an inconvenience and there are effective ways to limit it.  The catalogs and flyers I receive generally are those I want to receive.  But for me, there's nothing that can equal receiving a fat envelope filled with a long letter from a loved one.

Writing emails has eroded our skills, if not completely obliterated or replaced them, for writing letters.  And yes, writing a letter requires skill and craft, just as any writing does, although a lot of writing in electronic formats (texting and emails) require a much different skill set.  This morning, I found that there's now actually a book for learning how to write first class letters. 

Finally, there's the historical aspect.  We know a lot about what everyday life was like for ordinary people at different periods in human history because of the written record they left in the form of personal letters, business letters and diaries.  What will our written record consist of?  Will the people who own all the servers used for email preserve all those emails, or will they periodically delete them permanently, wiping any written record of everyday life away?  I'm no expert, but I have heard that digital files also become corrupted or eroded over time, especially if not used often enough.  It makes sense.  Paper can also disintegrate if not treated and cared for.

Snail mail rocks!  I will continue to write first class letters and cards to my friends and family, and business letters to those with whom I do business.  I prefer to have a hard copy record that I can file away for future reference.  And I also prefer the buzz of happiness and excitement I get when I see those first class letters in my mailbox, a feeling I rarely experience with email....   

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