The sorry state of mail…of all kinds

I have heard reports lately about the impending demise of the US Postal Service.  Seems they plan to close 250 postal centers across the country over the next few years.  This was inevitable, I suppose…but it still bums me out a little bit.  I stop to wonder how many kids there are out there who have never received a letter in the mail…who have never had a pen pal from another country…who have never extracted their dog’s teeth from the mail carrier’s rear end…who wonder why their parents still insist on checking that box on the street when all they seem to do is immediately throw away the contents or grimace when they realize that they received another bill.  I covered this topic a bit in a previous blog, so to all you intrepid blog readers who have read that entry, I apologize in advance for any repetition.  What prompts me to bring it up again, I guess, is that while we have innovated, while we have made things faster, while we have made things more reliable… we have also propagated old problems to a new medium and we have created a new host of problems for ourselves.

Consider the problems we used to have with mail.  It was slow.  It was sometimes unreliable.  It required us to buy stamps.  Weather affected it.  It required us to actually write things down.  It wasted paper.  These are pretty much solved now for the most part with our switch to electronic mail (email).

What we haven’t really solved is the junk mail problem… As much as I hate the fact that I throw away most of what clogs my mail box that I still make the effort to check everyday, I find it ironic that I get 10x the spam on a daily basis in my assorted email accounts that I ever got via my postal carrier.  As we have sped up the process, we have sped up the ability for spammers to annoy us.  Granted, there are ‘protections’ in place to try to counteract this activity…anti-spam is big business…but just as you might throw away physical mail that gets lost in a pile of junk mail, your spam filter might filter out things that you want.

The problems that email has introduced center mostly around promoting bad habits and laziness.  For example: Built-in spell checkers, when people bother to use them, do a decent job of alerting the user to spelling mistakes.  The problem is that over time, people, (especially young people) have forgotten how to spell or are just too lazy to do it correctly.  When we used to write letters, without the aid of a spell checker, we were very conscious of spelling things correctly.  We were also more worried about how we would be perceived if we wrote a letter rife with spelling errors.  Now even business emails are full of spelling or grammar mistakes.  For me, it is all about people not slowing down long enough to craft something that is clear and delivers the appropriate message.  In this world of instant gratification, most people can’t be bothered.  A good example of this is the growing practice of putting a tagline at the end of an email constructed on a smart phone.  People post an apology for spelling or grammar mistakes, using the excuse that they shouldn’t be held responsible because they are writing the email from a phone with a touchy keypad or over eager auto correct features.  To me, this tells me that the person doesn’t really care that they might be sending something that reflects poorly on their attention to detail.  Just my $.02…

One thing that email allows us to do is to correspond with groups of people at one time.  This is a powerful feature…but as they say…power corrupts.  My biggest pet peeve about this is not the discussion generated by a long email thread, but the inability of most people to use the ‘Reply’ feature instead of the ‘Reply to All’ feature.  Many people send group emails to announce something…for example: someone getting promoted.  In the past an  appropriate response might have been to send a handwritten note or perhaps stop them in the hallway to offer congratulations.  Today, in my opinion, the appropriate response would be to send a congratulatory email to that person directly.  Most people however feel the need to Reply to All, causing everyone on the list to receive an additional email each time.  What starts as happiness for the person who was promoted soon turns to irritation and frustration as the spam starts rolling into the inbox.  We have to deal with enough spam from spammers, it is annoying when we have to deal with it from people who should know better.

Another problem with email and the instant gratification it fosters revolves around reacting to a situation, composing an angry email, and firing it off into the ether, often regretting it later or worrying about the tone it might convey.  I read an article once that said that any email that deals with feelings or something at all controversial should be drafted and set aside for an hour or so and then edited before sending so that the author can be in a better or more objective state of mind and make sure their message is conveyed clearly and without unwanted context or emotion.  I think that this is really sound advice and try to do this whenever possible.  In the past, this was easier to deal with… Remember the old television show plot where someone would mail a letter and then spend the rest of the episode trying to get the letter back out of the mailbox or intercepting it prior to delivery because they shouldn’t have sent it in the first place?  With email, there is no re-calling a mail once sent… Though, maybe…if you got lucky…any objectionable content would be unrecognizable because you spelled it wrong, or your auto correct changed it, or you just can’t seem to type correctly on the tiny touch pad on your smartphone.  At least you have that disclaimer to fall back on…’so you’ve got that going for you…which is nice…’

Rant over… Return to your regularly scheduled programming 😉



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