Nothing compares to coming home to real mail. Picking it up and seeing your name, slicing it open, and unfolding and reading your message is so much more special than hitting an envelope icon on your computer or smartphone.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is currently on rotating strike action, hoping to pressure Canada Post to increase wages and improve safety and working conditions for its members. The job action hits Regina on Monday, June 13 for 24 hours, and many other Canadian cities have seen postal workers walk off the job as part of the strike.
This has raised many questions about the effectiveness of such a move in 2011, when mail is not vital to the functioning of the nation the same way it was even 15 or 20 years ago. While countless packages are mailed, delivering people’s gifts and online purchases, the volume of smaller envelopes containing letters alone has been decreasingly steadily. Regardless of your stance on the postal workers’ job action, re-evaluating the role of the postal service, or any other system in place, is an important pursuit.
The environmental issues surrounding snail mail are numerous and not to be ignored. It uses up paper, most obviously, but also resources in sorting and transporting it. When most messages can be sent off in mere moments while taking the bus or between sips of coffee at your desk, using up a piece of paper and an envelope is unnecessary and wasteful. Within businesses and organizations, it is infinitely more efficient to use email for important documents and correspondence. Even families and friends find it quick and simple to keep updated on their loved ones’ activities through social media.
But for the same reasons that vinyl records and novels have a certain appeal to many people, letters hold a special place in my heart. This should come as no surprise – I purposely work in the dying industry of print media. Letters have an element of tangibility, the knowledge that someone has sent it from their hands to yours, that is a welcome change. Getting in touch with someone to let them know you’re thinking of them has no higher form than a handwritten card or letter. While kind words from a friend are as precious to me in a text message or email, their handwriting will always make it that much more meaningful.
Further to this use of mail, items unavailable close to home are increasingly purchased online, and while there are couriers and transport services that can accommodate shipping, the mail is still overwhelmingly used for these transactions. These deliveries won’t slow down – chain retailers and huge online-only companies have captured the value of the online market. It is also an incredible new venue for artists, musicians, and anyone with a product to sell, one that doesn’t require distribution to merchants or over-production. The direct connection between vendor and consumer is, for many, highly desirable. As more specialty merchants pop up and more people become comfortable with buying goods of all kinds online, the role of post in delivering those items will remain strong.
While the mail is no longer the lifeblood of business and personal connections across the world, it has transformed over time to a more specialized service that serves a different but nonetheless important purpose. Whatever the outcome of CUPW’s job action, the value of Canada Post’s function will ideally be recognized by both sides, and Canadians will be served accordingly.