There’s a lovely little luxury that has been fast fading but I think is ready for a comeback—the mail…printed and postal, that is.
It’s colorful…multidimensional…full of interesting images and ideas. It’s quiet and reflective and can be perused at your own pace—either now or later when time allows. It’s one of the few mediums today that puts you in control of how you receive it—you can either read it or throw it away…skim quickly…relish every page…or file it away for future reference. It arrives on a simple once-a-day schedule, rather than the never-ending stream of new e-mails that must be quickly reviewed and sorted before the next wave arrives.
Believe it or not, even “junk” mail is generally sent specifically to you. Paper and postage are extremely expensive today, so businesses are very careful to mail only to people they firmly believe will be interested in their products. You may not feel that way when the holidays come around and your mailbox is jammed with catalogs and promotions for chimney sweeps and credit cards. But if you take a moment before tossing these promotions into the recycling bin, you may be surprised to realize that there is likely a connection between your interests or past purchases and what is being offered to you.
In contrast, think of the commercials not just on network and cable television but also on YouTube and streaming services. You are a prisoner to the interruptions of your show and the invasion of your space.
Trying to read a web page? How many screen takeovers and pop-ups do you have to “x” out of before you finish? And how many ads full of links are scattered across your dizzying screen?
Mail isn’t just about promotions and catalogs. Who doesn’t get excited to see a handwritten card or letter? What about the joy of receiving birthday cards (and grandma’s check)? Or the grace of a thank-you note. My children were well-trained to send them, and it helped both my girls stand out from the crowd when searching for their first jobs out of college.
As for bills, I consider mailed bills a handy organizational tool. Sure, I can pay my bills online…and I do. But no-thank-you to online invoices that can get lost in a sea of spam e-mails. When I get a printed bill, it serves as a physical and visual reminder that a payment needs to get made. I saw it. I touched it. I put it on a pile for future handling.
There’s a ritual to the mail. At a seminar years ago entitled “Celebrating Men,” the leader talked about men needing transition time when they come home from work. Step #1: Read the mail. Step #2: Change their clothes. Step #3: Go to his cave briefly to complete his transformation into Prince Charming. The transformation starts with taking time to look at the mail.
The art of the mail has been powerfully demonstrated to me as we continue to sort through my deceased father-in-law’s files and boxes. He has boxes (and I mean boxes) of letters and postcards that tell beautiful stories dating back to his childhood. His parents sent letters and postcards from their many trips throughout the US and Mexico. There are letters from his grandmother, college buddies and business associates. These are an art form that is rich in texture and color. Now it seems that the only hand-writing we do is “journaling” in order to reduce stress and stay present. But in the past, it was simply how people communicated—the printed word delivered by hand. Receiving personal letters and postcards still brings a thrill.
Every day, it seems that another magazine publisher closes its doors, crushed by the digital age. Readers neither want to pay for magazine’s content nor peruse their pages. But you can’t savor a screen shot. Touching and turning the pages of a beautiful fashion or home-decor magazine is a sumptuous experience. I marvel every month at the beauty created by my friend DJ Carey, editorial director at Cottages and Gardens Media Group, and her team. The oversized pages and phenomenal photography take me into a fantasy land that simply cannot be replicated by a video tour online.
Holiday catalogs are starting to arrive bringing a new set of products to shop for while standing at my kitchen counter. It’s part of my own ritual each evening when I get home. Step #1: Wash my hands—a habit formed when my children were born. Step #2: Change my clothes. Step #3: Go on an adventure brought to me by my local postal worker. There’s always something or someplace fascinating to look at.
I know people in our high-tech world look down their noses at that thing called “snail mail.” It’s slow. It wastes paper. As I wrote about recently with regard to the farm-to-table movement and the hopes of a return to buying local, perhaps there is a place for a renaissance of written and printed communication that allows people to experience the messages in their way and in their own time.