I had NPR on the other night while I was making a roasted tomato pasta dish from my new cookbook. The program that was playing, On Point, caught my attention when guest host John Donvan announced the topic of the evening was the U. S. Postal Service. Donvan introduced the topic with some of the current issues facing the Postal Service and some possible solutions to get it on more financially stable ground.
While the start of the show focused on two new proposals (eliminating door-to-door delivery and privatizing mail delivery), a majority of the discussion centered on whether the Postal Service could be saved when electronic communications are becoming so widely available.
The guests were media theorist, Douglas Rushkoff, and journalist, Steven Petrow. They explained that mail is still relevant because it has evolved to represent much more than a form of communication. Rushkoff said that this is because an institution like the Post Office is the least common denominator for a community and acts as a local reference point.
Donvan summed it up perfectly by adding that it’s not only about a community’s identity but individuals as well. Having ownership of a physical space and being identified with that area by means of an address helps solidify an individual’s place — figuratively and literally — in their community. The conversation turned to electronic communications and why they can’t deliver the same feeling because they are rooted in an ‘unreal’ environment. As Donvan said, there is “value and meaning of actually having an address in the real world.”
Rushkoff agreed, saying that if we were to lose the Postal Service, we would lose “One more anchor in the real world. One more way of judging who we are and where we are in our physical reality and that’s not something that we can just dismiss without thinking about it.” Plus, Petrow added, written communication develops stronger relationships than electronic methods because there is an inherent value to the time, money and effort that goes into crafting a letter and sending it through the mail.
Callers agreed on both points, stating that there is no substitute for receiving a letter in the mail and enjoying that “mail moment.” Many said that they save all their letters as mementos and that they still have a powerful emotional response to them even years after they’ve been opened. One caller, a 24-year-old named Ryan, said, “There is nothing like the feeling of getting a handwritten letter in the mail and I think everybody should have the feel of that.”
It was clear by the end of my pasta prep that people still cherish and value mail and want to see the Postal Service thrive once more. You can still listen to a recording of “On Point: The Troubled U.S. Postal Service, And How We Communicate Now” by visiting their website. You can also continue the conversation here by leaving a comment on what mail does for you—we’d love to hear from you and share in your love of letters. And if you’d like the recipe for my new favorite pasta dish, send me your address and I’ll mail it to you.