Mailing List

Had this vision a couple days ago, and thought I'd share.

I was imaging a time when all relevant advertising is done online, either through sponsored site ads, or generated through your free services, email, and etc. As they get better and better at targeted web ads, either to your particular online identifier characteristics or simply to location and demographic, the idea of targeted direct mail seems pointless.

There's nothing more transitory than a mailing address, these days. Mail can be lost or damaged. People move. Mailing lists accumulate over such a long period of time, that often it's the people themselves that are changing.

But people have their cell phones everywhere. Even if they don't pick up your phone call, they'll probably listen to your message right away.

And email is even better. Machines can read email. Machines tell you what is important and what you should look at, in the days of the wide, wide, atemporal web. If you can appeal to a machine, you're message will definitely be read. In some time period, it might be more important to have a machine read your message than any human.

So, perhaps the mail will be abandoned. People mail letters less, but in the amount of weight going through the mail industry, the real customers to abandon the industry are the mass mailers. Postcards and newsprint are going through the mail by the ton per minute, all in the hopes that maybe you'll see it. Fruitless! It's only a matter of time before all advertising is online.

While this may sound like a death dial tone for the mail industry, it could also be its rejuvenation. As people get bills online, ads online, and news online, they will no longer guard their mailing address as the gateway to their ad-free souls. Already, I readily give out my phone number and guard my email address, just because an email address is so easily passed around, and ads are sent by script. I know someone is unlikely to call me with crap when they can email much more cheaply. They'll email me every damn week. But I can easily screen my calls, almost easier than I can sort through spam. Maybe there is a time when the email address is portal to the individuality, and the mailing address is as casual as a Twitter username.

This could be the rebirth of the postcard--the original technologically truncated global communication. Replacing the @ with the Airmail stamp. Hell, it only costs half an iPhone app to send a PHYSICAL PIECE OF PAPER with writing or whatever on it clear across the continent, if not the world. People could opt-in to mailing lists, where they get weird, semi-promotional musings at irregular intervals. Why? For entertainment? For social networking? For world-wide democracy? Who knows why. Maybe just to bitch about what we're watching on TV.

Sure, no one writes letters anymore. But never has anyone written quite enough letters. How many emails have you received lately that totaled over a hundred coherent, properly spelled words? But wait a minute, people write philosophical essays on blogs! (At least some of us do.) Why do they do it? Because we're crazy. Because for some reason, the human race loves to communicate with people not in the immediate area, but will not make eye contact with strangers. Because people used to make pamphlets and hand them out even though it was against the law. Because people read stuff that ends up on their door step.

Because paper is a really freakin' weird device. Okay, get this--no phone, no 3G, no CAMERA, yet a remarkable resolution, fully-interactive surface over the entire object, and depending on what sort of input device you use, you get completely different results. It has been said that no one writes on this thing in the same way! Although it is easily recyclable, it can be made nearly indestructible, and even if it is totally damaged, it often still works like new. You can fold it, bend it, glue it, tear it, EAT IT, and repurpose it for any number of uses, from building bicycles to spitting it at your little brother. It's really cheap, too.

So maybe, in some hypothetical time period, when everyone is communicating instantly via Device X and Service Y over Network Q, all the really hype kids are mailing each other printed picture postcards of their sex organs, sharing the new slow-net meme, or even sending the track they just recorded with their band, "crimped" to paper via their DIY groove printer.


Here's some stuff the Post Office could be doing to make this time period not just a time period, but a SOON--some of it which I can't believe they don't do now.

- Create unique postal addresses (UPA) for each person in the country. Make it a twenty-four digit number, or some hex code. Nobody has to remember all their friends numbers, or even their own. They can still mail to a so-called "street address", or other such mnemonic. But the mail service looks up the actual client via a reference database, not unlike a DNS database. You can change your mnemonic via the database anytime you want (or "move", as they once called it) but as long as the mnemonic and the physical delivery address are still linked via your UPA, the mail is delivered. I may not be the only Adam Rothstein in town, or the only person ever to live at 4835 SE Sherman Street, but as long as my mnemonic handle, "Adam Master of the Interdome Rothstein" is on the envelope, I still get the mail. Sure, I chose the name when I was sixteen and it's silly, so it's only for personal mail now. Business mail goes to my business handle, "Adam Corporate Jerk Rothstein", which is also connected to my same UPA, and therefore both coming to my home address, even though none of the senders know where I actually live. Or maybe my UPA listing filters mail from certain senders to certain physical addresses. The database handles all of this, and all I have to do is update my record. Did you know that when you fill out a change of address form at the Post Office, you get a postcard to both addresses to confirm the change? It might as well say, "Please click on this link to confirm, and do not reply to this address as this email was auto-generated." They just need to take it a step further, and give you an IP address.

- It gets even easier now that you can print a custom barcode on any piece of mail with your home printer, using the online UPA database, very similar to a DNS whois. In a barcode there's nothing to misspell. The barcode is, naturally, instantly readable to anyone with a camera phone.

- Stop home delivery. Or, charge for it on the receiving end. Businesses pay for mail delivery, of course. Everyone else can do their correspondence by email... via the free Webmail client the USPS now provides, if they like. People with disabilities and the elderly get free mail delivery. Mail can always be picked up at the post office with a private 24-hour box also costing money, but not as much as home delivery. Picking up mail at the window of your local branch is free. Post Office boxes and branch storage has an expiration, of course. After a certain physical amount of mail taking up space, you either have to pay for an upgrade, or it gets "deleted" (recycled into USPS mailer material). Just like your free email account in the distant, limited digital storage past. All the more reason to do important business by email now, because our email inboxes hold just about a terabyte, keeping personal records of bills and other annoying number series for our entire lives, without ever having a potentially compromising personal mailing to shred.

- The frequency of delivery is increased. Once you are paying for home delivery, you can avail yourself of all the different service plan options. You can pay per delivery, perhaps once a week, either prepaid, or with a credit card on net terms. Or pay for unlimited service, up to three times a day. As the quantity of bullshit mail decreases, the speed of service should increase. Especially if you pay for it.

Each of those bullet points contains numerous changes, but all have the same general inclination: the USPS should start re-envisioning itself as a Mail Service Provider, in overlapping silhouette of Internet Service Providers. There are clients with certain but varying hosting needs, physical networks of transmission, and of course, the content to be provided. Landline ISPs provide data packets over a network that has changed a certain amount, but also stayed roughly the same for a while. There is datahosting, packet transmission, and the sale of services. Mobile ISPs are new to the game, and are starting to pick up the product end of things. Comcast will skin you to rent you a cable modem, but AT&T partnered with Apple on the iPhone, which was probably their smartest and most customer friendly move ever. They still have a way to go, obviously, and many more milestones to pass before they are less of a "telecommunications company" and more of a "network access company". But they're starting to get the idea. The USPS has much further to go. The idea that they are delivering "mail to addresses" should go the way of the AOL portal and national news magazines. MSPs are delivering content to customers, and should totally redesign their service and distribution network around this. If my location-aware cell phone can tell I'm at a cafe in New York this week, why the hell is my mail going to my house? They need to make some network choices here. Maybe redesign a standard uni-mailer, into which all correspondence must fit, and is addressed and sold only directly at USPS kiosks, auto-printed with unreadable barcodes that will never be touched by human hands. If it improves service, people might complain, but they'll buy in. Apple knows it. Hell, people still fly on airlines, so they'll put up with whatever is necessary to get from here to there.

But I'm also going to do my part to further this transition to a redesigned, "Post-Net". (great name, no?) I'm starting a mailing list, after the old style, when it was the only way to swap pornography, or read the latest conspiracy theories, or to get the good music, books, and comics. Not for any of those things necessarily, but to send and receive. All you have to do is send me your old fashioned, obsolete format mailing address. If it's your friend's address or your work address, that's fine. If its a PO Box, that's even better. Just somewhere where you want to receive unsolicited mailings on a basis as irregular as the mail. Email me your address, and start checking your mail box again. Really. Do it.

Or mail me!

4835 SE Sherman St.
Portland, OR 97215

Through codec and bitrate, and gloom of social media, nothing will stop mail from pointedly plodding from one place to somewhere else. Except for no delivery on Sundays.

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