If Physical Mail Were Like Email

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People have bad email habits. How do I know? Imagine treating physical mail in the same way we treat email. If our pmail habits were like our email habits, it would look like this.

I have my pmail delivered to a giant warehouse, which is where I read it. I’ve been getting mail at this address for nine years, so there’s too much to fit in my home or office. That’s why I have an over-sized Inbin, about the size of a standard dumpster.

There is a trash dumpster right next to my Inbin, but who has time to decide what to keep and what to throw away? And I might actually want to read that catalog some day, so I save every single mail I’ve ever received. It’s easier to just upgrade to a bigger bin when I run out of space.

My pmail warehouse does have different bins that I can sort things into, but I find it easier to just have one massive Inbin. In any case, an IBM study showed that it’s a waste of time to sort your mail into separate bins.

I have to short ladder over to climb to the top of my Inbin and peer in. At the moment, it holds the 16,547 pieces of mail that I have opened and the 2,106 pieces of mail that I might open someday. There actually are a few thousand in the trash bin, because sometimes I do actually move things from my email bin to the trash. There are even a handful of letters in the various other bins, but since the labels don’t really seem to make sense consistently, I’ve mostly given up and just leave things in the Inbin.

Unfortunately, now that I have 18,653 pieces of mail in my Inbin, with opened an unopened all mixed together (damn mailman just threw in another one — now it’s 18,654), I have to climb into the bin and sort through to find the ones I want.

In theory, my pmail warehouse does have a staff of search people who can sort through and find a given pmail if I need it. Unfortunately, my company chose the Outlook pmail warehouse, so the searcher people are actually illiterate and, in practice, can’t find jack shit. But if you know the rough date, they can sometimes find the approximate layer in your Inbin. My friend at another company uses the Google warehouse and their search staff is incomparably better at finding old emails, but sometimes they also turn up transcripts of old phone conversations that you didn’t even know were being recorded. I’m still trying to decide which I prefer.

I do have some actual work to do, so I grab a stamp, an envelope, a piece of paper, a pen, I address the envelope, put the stamp on it, put my return address on it, quickly dash off a letter to Brandon.

As I’m about to put it in the envelope, I realize that although nobody else needs to be at, or even know about, the meeting on the Simpson contract, there are a lot of people who might want to track progress on this obscure project. So I grab 26 envelopes, 26 stamps, 26 pre-printed return address labels, make 26 copies of my letter to Brandon, add the 26 names to the CC list so Brandon knows who to reply to, put one copy in each envelope, address them all, and then drop the original and all 26 copies in the Outgoing mailbox.

I begin dropping by the warehouse, climbing the ladder and peering into the Inbin every 20 minutes to see if I have a response from Brandon.

The next day I have two letters from people asking to be removed from the CC list. Even though nobody on CC list is invited to the meeting, I also have three letters from people who all state that neither date works for them and asking if we can reschedule. Finally, I have a letter saying the sender is unable to find the “Simspon” project in the project database, please send details.

Of six letters, four have been sent to all 27 people on the list, including the two asking to be removed from the CC list.

Meanwhile, Brandon has been going to his pmail warehouse with obsessive frequency. After three days, my letter is right there in the top layer. Brandon goes once again to his warehouse, grabs his small ladder, climbs to the top of his Inbin, looks for new mail and finds my epistle. He opens it right away, skims it vaguely, and then tosses it back in the Inbin along with his 21,875 opened and unopened pieces of pmail.

Brandon continues to visit his warehouse obsessively. Finally, after two days elapse, he goes to his warehouse, climbs his ladder, sorts down through the 382 pmails now sitting on top of my letter, finds my masterpiece and skims it.

“Hey Bradnon which works better on for you to goover the Simspon contact June 13 or June 17?”

This time he does not simply throw it back in the bin. He springs into action. He climbs down the ladder, goes to his pmail warehouse writing desk, grabs 25 stamps (having removed two people from the CC list), 25 envelopes, 25 pieces of paper, and a pen.

He addresses the envelopes, puts the stamps on them and puts his return address on them. He’s loaded and ready to write.

He then crafts his response to my query about whether June 13 or June 17 is a better day for him to meet.

“Sure!” he says.

Then he takes all 25 copies, seals them and drops them in the Outgoing box.

I’m still dropping by the warehouse every seven to twenty minutes to check for new pmail. I take a break to have dinner with the family and watch a movie. I drive over to the warehouse after dinner while the kids are doing the dishes and my wife is driving to her warehouse. We settle in to a movie and I promise my wife I will only drive over to the warehouse once during the whole thing. So during a lull in the movie, I drive over to the warehouse and climb the ladder to peer into my Inbin to see if there’s any new pmail.

It turns out there are sixteen new letters since the movie started. I open them four of them, decide not to take any action, and throw them back in the bin.

After the movie, I continue checking my email every twenty minutes, swinging by the warehouse before breakfast, opening mail and leaving it in the Inbin. On some occasions, I write a response, but I am always careful after I respond to throw the original back in the Inbin. You never know when you might want to reference it.

After five days, I have Brandon’s response, which, of course, does not answer my question. I am really starting to regret that I CCed those 26 people. June 13 is coming up fast and I know calendars are filling, so I need an intelligible response from Brandon. I read his one-word letter, throw it back in the Inbin and start reading other letters.

One let’s me know that there is a sale on the socks my wife likes. Fortunately, the letter includes the address of the nearest store, so I take a break from reading my pmail and drive down to the store to look at socks for a while. After deciding none of the sale socks were in the color my wife likes, I left the store with just a pair of running shoes, a new hat and a magazine. I head back to the warehouse to read more pmail.

At this very moment, halfway across the country, my elderly parents are still storing their pmail in a huge pile in the garage AOL built for them for free when trying to build their customer base. There is, of course, no room for the car anymore. The garage is now full of a disorganized pile of letters about crackpot conspiracy theories, unsubstantiated health news, bad jokes and scams cast pêle-mêle between the snowblower and the lawnmower.

Some years ago, during a momentary lapse in attention as he was backing the lawn tractor out to mow the lawn, my father accidentally mowed his pmail archive. Random conspiracy theory mulch jetted throughout the house, the yard and the neighborhood.

Unlike me, they do not look into the garage every seven minutes to see if any new pmail has arrived. They are retired and pretty much nothing important comes to them via pmail.

But, also unlike me, they periodically run down to Kinko’s Copy Center, make copies of all the crackpot pmails, then grab a couple dozen stamps, a couple dozen envelopes, print out the labels in the “friends” label file, and send the crackpot pmails to a couple dozen friends, most of whom have already received four or more copies from other friends. But they are all retired and seem to more or less enjoy it, though lately I hear even my father grumbling about the quantity of pmail that lands in his garage.

My nieces and nephews, on the other hand, have only a vague idea what pmail is. They are forced to use it at work sometimes, but mostly they laugh and say pmail is for old people. They prefer to just send short, cryptic telegrams in which the spelling has been “corrected” by the telegraph operator so as to render the original meaning almost impossible to unearth. But that’s for another article.

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