Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mourning Mail

The problem with living in a heavily electronic age is that many things are now virtual, rather than actual.

This thought occurred to me today as I checked my mail and all I had was a circular ad for Lowes, a Steak and Shake page of coupons and a leaflet for DirecTV. Yesterday, I had a coupon from Bed, Bath and Beyond. The day before that…I got no mail.

Even a few years ago, I used to get more mail. Even though it was mostly bills, there was something satisfying in opening up the mailbox and seeing a wad of envelopes in there. You never quite knew what you were going to get. Those were the days where I had files folders for my bills, each labeled with the name of the company who was sending the bill. Then, on payday, I’d get my newest bills, my checkbook and my stamps and I’d make an evening of paying bills. Yes, this sounds rather dull but, oddly, I quite liked it. I never liked the spending of the money part of it but there was something satisfying about sitting down, immersed in paperwork, half-watching something on TV and then maybe having a glass of wine as a reward. Then again, I am someone who quite likes to do my taxes too. Yes, I’m weird. However, I liked homework too when I was in school. We could discuss my giant case of pre-college nerdiness but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was a nerd.

Nowadays, most of my bills are delivered electronically to me. Not only is this easier but it does save trees. I’m not exactly Captain Greenpeace-let’s-live-in-a-tree-to-protest-them-chopping-them-down. I’m not even someone who necessarily buys the green version of cleaning products. Frankly, while I salute the attempt, vinegar and lemon do NOT clean my toilet as well as Lysol Bathroom Cleaner and I’m not going to mess with bathroom germs. However, I do try to be green when I can and if I can save a tree by having my mortgage statements sent to me electronically, I will.

On a side note, I do wish that the credit card companies who are trying to solicit my business were more green. Chase Manhattan, I am TALKING TO YOU. I do NOT need at least three pieces of junk mail in my mailbox per week asking me to become a) a member of your bank, b) a holder of your credit card or c) a low balance transfer. By all means, if you HAVE to, send me one piece of mail sporadically to remind me that you’re out there but your bulk mailing campaigns are ridiculous. Discover card? You’re not far behind. And Citibank? I already have one of your damn credit cards, I don’t want another. I don’t want to swap my reward card for a Disney reward card or a Barnes and Noble reward card. Here’s the thing: By having a general rewards card that gives me cash back, I can spend it anywhere! A novel concept, I know but this means I can use it for Disneyland or Barnes and Noble if I want! I don’t need a specific card!

(please note, I’m making up the Disney/Barnes and Noble thing. I do get these type of offers from Citibank but it may not be those specific companies. Those may come from Chase Manhattan. CHASE? STOP KILLING TREES!).

Back to my original point and, yes, again- I do have one. The actual real mail that’s directed to me personally rather than “Captain Monkeypants or current resident” has declined dramatically in recent years because of technology, particularly the rapid growth of the internet and the ease of paying bills online.

(That last sentence, right there- THESIS STATEMENT! Yup, I learned something in high school English and it still applies. Yes, I am proud. As should Mrs. Studebaker and the other teachers who taught me the value of writing a paper correctly. I can still do the outline, thank you very much. Now, diagramming sentences…that was always a little daft to me and even though I probably still could try, my total lack of desire to ever diagram a sentence again gets in the way.)

I like doing things online. It’s convenient and simple. I have it set up so that I just login to my banking site and I’ve already got all my payees and bill notifications set up. I can just look at what’s due and boom! Payment is delivered within two days. While this is simple, it’s not foolproof. For example, say your direct deposit is delivered at 12:00 a.m. on a Saturday and you don’t think about paying bills until you’re in your office on a Monday. Then you realize that it’s actually the 3rd of the month and your Verizon bill is due today. If you go through the bank, it’ll get paid by the 5th. However, the beauty of a virtual world is that in this case, I can just go directly to my Verizon account, login and then click on “Pay my Bill”. Boom. Instant gratification.

Life is more convenient now. Before the internet, doing that would have involved a series of phone calls and possibly an emergency trip to the post-office. Now, it just requires going to a website, logging in and taking care of business.

Granted, it’s a little more dangerous but if you’re smart about it and you don’t put in “Password” as your password or something equally easy-to-guess, it’s pretty secure.

All in all, it is easier now. It makes it harder to be late with payments. It makes it harder to forget a payment because my bank reminds me when to pay. I also get reminders from the companies in my inbox.

The inbox has replaced the physical mailbox. It’s a little sad.

While it is nice to see fun, personal emails from friends and family and those nifty “Hey it’s your birthday, have a coupon for a free ice-cream” type of things on your birthday, I find that there’s something not quite as gratifying about email as there is with physical mail. Maybe it’s because email is delivered 24 hours a day, seven days a week whereas with physical mail, you have to wait for the mailperson to put it in your box. It is more convenient to have email constantly being delivered but it’s not as fun as real mail.

No matter how many emails I get, it never quite feels the same opening one as it does having a physical envelope in my hand, and trying to open the seal only to tear the paper. When the email opens, it’s so quick, there’s little time to pause in the anticipation of the letter. You can’t lay it aside and pick it up again to reread without having to log back into your email and reopen it.

And the smell of paper and the occasional accidental papercut is missing. I get it. We need to be green. I get as much email as I ever did physical mail, probably a lot more.

Yet, every time I open my mailbox to find it empty, it’s a little sad. I miss real mail.

And Chase Manhattan? You don’t count. Sorry.

Happy Wednesday

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