I get a lot of junk mail. Almost 140 pieces last month alone. I thought spam was supposed to get rid of junk mail. Instead, I also get about 350 pieces of e-mail spam a month in addition to the junk mail I get in my physical box. Most of the spam gets caught in various filters or traps, but I still have to clean those filters out. I wish my mailbox had a filter. Or better yet, a shredder.
As an experiment, I decided to save a whole month’s worth of mail. All of it. I wanted to see just how much junk mail I was really getting. For purposes of this study, I decided that anything that was not a legitimate bill, an authorized magazine subscription, or personal correspondance would be categorized as junk mail- even if it came from an entity I had previously or was currently engaged in some form of commerce with, so long as this new correspondance was of another nature. Basically, if it was an offer, plea, advertisement, special offer or anything except those listed above, it was junk mail.
The pile in the picture is the resulting junk mail pile, minus the tri-weekly newspaper-like fliers with grocery ads and miscellaneous great deals. Between my wife and me, we received 13 credit card offers, 11 refinance deals, 7 promises of cheaper indurance, 7 survey questionaires, 43 different advertisements, including 5 from Cingular- the company we already use for cell phone service, 28 pleas from charitable organizations, 10 political fundraising pleas and one unordered magazine. My daughter even got some junk mail, an advertisement for a kids magazine. She’s eight.
If I could take a picture of my e-mail spam it would be at least twice as tall and you’d probably see a similar breakdown of categories- a bunch of refinance offers, insurance promises, political and charitable pleas and surveys, and of course, the ever present penis enlargement miracle cures. (At least I don’t have to touch those ones with my real hands!)
During that same month, I received a grand total of 29 legitimate pieces of mail. Just over one piece per day. Yet every day my hands were full coming back from the mailbox.
So what’s my point? There are any number of social or political parallels I could apply to my junk mail story. I could equate the overbearing amount of junk mail to the incessant stream of bullshit coming out of Washington D.C. and especially the White House. Or I could analyze the enormous amount of wasted resources that are consumed creating, delivering, and disposing of all this junk mail. Or I could complain that like pets, society has become to resemble its junk mail, all flash and little substance.
All of those descriptions are true. But they still don’t change the basic fact that a lot of people are wasting a lot of time sending everybody else a lot of junk. We’re getting buried in it. And we’re going to soon have another mental disorder to deal with- Junk Mail Fatigue. With so many real problems mankind could be working on, we’re perfecting the art of mass mailing things no one will ever look at.
What bothers me most I guess is the sheer waste of it all. The unnecessarily wasted paper, ink, fuel that are used up in the whole process. At every step along the way, energy is consumed, resources are used up, people are worn out, and for what? So that I and my neighbors and friends can take a handful of paper and toss it in the recycle bin or worse, the regular trash? Why do I need 5 different advertisements from my own cell phone company during the month, and then the same adverts in my monthly bill? Would my rates be lower if they stopped wasting so much money advertising to their own customers? Why does the charity that I donate to about four times a year send me pleas 8 times a year, each time stuffed with more address labels than I can ever use? And why do charities that I’ve never donated to send me free writing tablets, calendars, and nickels? They are asking me for money and they’re sending me nickels? Hello? Anybody home? And if I didn’t sign up for your credit card after 7 years of special offers, what makes you think I’ll do it now?
For the sake of our environment, national security, and energy conservation it is time to rein in the out of control junk mail industry, if for no other reason than to preserve our postal sanity. I know it’s not as important as ending the war in Iraq, or getting health care for all Americans, but for all the reasons listed, it’s got to be a close third. And if it’s not, well, it damn well should be.
(cross posted at Bring It On! )