Culture, direct mail, Media, Science, Thank You, USPS

You Are Still On My List

A written card, delivered by mail. Old fashioned, and meaningful.

This morning, CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauly featured the story of a father in Valdosta, Georgia who has sent over 20,000 post cards to his kids since 1995. The kids have saved every one, and their bookshelves are packed with volumes of fatherly words to his children.

As a devout postal fan, I was intrigued and pleased that there was a fellow writer who still believed in sending cards and letters.  Indeed a while back I wrote about the beauty of the written thank you note.

It drove me to look at the latest USPS Revenues Pieces and Weights report that measures the postal pulse of the nation. What I found was both disturbing, and a little puzzling.

Direct mail surrendered some market share to the web.

We know that mail volumes have conceded their dominance to email and online transactions. Even direct mail, which is a vibrant, robust medium has also given up share to the web.

But what was revealing about our culture are the declining totals of personal mail for the last three months, from October to December, 2017.

Simply put, we stopped writing.

Year over year, the Q4 volume of “single” letters slipped 5.9%. A blip? No, because single letters had dropped 5.1% the previous Q4 as well.  A single letter is typically a bill payment, a business letter, or a personal letter.  Or perhaps a greeting card.

The Greeting Card Association reports 7 billion cards are produced every year.

Percentages don’t really tell the story though. This past quarter, the single letter volume dropped 313,044,000 pieces.

To put that into terms we understand, I remind you that every Q4 we celebrate Halloween, Remembrance or Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and approximately 75,000,000 birthdays.

The USPS counter selection is not encyclopedic, but it is enough to trigger the impulse.

The Greeting Card Association reports that we purchase over 7 billion greeting cards every year.  And it turns out that the USPS delivered 17.5 billion single letters in 2017.   Maybe the remaining 10.5 billion single letters are just business and bill payments.  So, did we stop sending personal letters, or did we stop paying our bills?

The answer again pops up in the USPS reports.  In 2017, Presort First Class letters, aka, bulk business letters dropped over 5%: 787 million fewer bills and statements going out; fewer checks coming back.

It further develops, according to the USPS 2016 Householder Diary that Americans sent 3.6 billion letters “household to household”.

Conclusion: consumers are doing their business online, receiving and paying their bills electronically.

This is a huge relief to me, because it means that we are still writing personal cards and letters…I think.

For certain, the volume will never drop to zero, because of the persistent efforts of a father in Valdosta who still writes his kids every day.

How often do you?

Thanks for sharing!  If you would like to see the USPS reports for yourself, click here!


Stringing Me Along

twinkle lightsNo doubt you have your lights up.   The annual ritual of hanging Christmas lights started about seven minutes after Master Bradford cleaned the last buffalo wing off the Thanksgiving plate in New Plimouth, in 1621.   Since that very day we, as a reasoning people, have been asking ourselves why we get sucked into buying more of those little twinkle lights every year.

These insidious strings have over 100 small, incandescent bulbs stuck in little sockets like poison darts.   At the store they appear smartly  packaged in plastic frames, efficiently coiling 25 feet of 3-ply electrical cord.   The bulbs are lined up like little glass medical phials, waiting to be plucked from their beds.   There is even a bonus packet containing a blinker bulb which, when engaged, turns the whole string into a tawdry window display for an all night pizza stand.

Lynch House.jpg

And the price for this residential street weapon: dirt cheap.    So it’s not hard to throw a couple more strings into the shopping cart during the weekly trip to ACE Hardware.   The rationale behind the purchase is that this year we are really going to show that supercilious twit across the street how we can tart up our roof gutters, window frames, mail box and chimney wreath better than him any day, hands down.

Which gets to the nut of the problem.   Once the tangle of a thousand lights has been festooned across every stationary object on our front yard including the lawnmower, we turn on the power.   Just like the movies, three strings don’t fully light.   150 bulbs are freezing dead black, at the top of the crabapple, and wrapped in and around a downspout.

string of lights

They worked fine when we tested them in the garage.  The act of hanging however has a terminal effect   I’m sorry–  I can’t begin to explain this many-layered pun to you.

It is the conundrum I repeatedly face: how can a civilized and sophisticated species like ours invent machinery that can create such elegant packaging, but can’t get the blinking (sorry) lights to work??

Christmas Lights

Anyway, moments before the recycling truck came rumbling down our street yesterday, I salvaged the three “dead” strings from the bin, and took them back to the basement.    I threw them onto the workbench like a bushel of seaweed–  this green tangle of plastic, copper and glass spikes.   I plugged in a set, and fingered down the glowing string until I came to the block of 50 dead lights.

Then I did something radical, and unwittingly logical.   Unplugging the string, I cut the dead block of lights off with my pliers.   Plugged the string back in, and the first 50 bulbs lit up, with no spray of sparks or numbing jolt up my arm through the back of my head.    Encouraged, I cut the the other two strings, and smiled at my thriftiness.   I had three strings of lights, shorter, but working.

Getting braver, I wondered if I could save the three dead strings too.   A little more tricky, I attached a new plug to one of  the severed strings.   Flying on one wing now;  metaphorically, driving 60 miles an hour into a fog bank.    I plug this string into the wall, but the lights don’t go on.   In fact, all the lights go out.   Not on the string, but in the house.


I am pretty sure that the circuit breaker in the darkest part of the basement hiding behind a curtain of cobwebs will be switched off, and if I am quick, I can get it back on.    This is not the problem.   The real challenge is to re-set the clocks:  the stove clock, the microwave clock, the alarm clock and then endure a 7-minute blackout on the TV waiting for our beloved cable company to resume its flow of NCIS re-runs.   And then–  to reset my ears.   They have been pinned by my better half, the lady who grudgingly allows me not quite enough rope to hang myself on a daily basis.

This year, I am going to let “Sparky” across the street have his moment in the glow of 18,000 lights.   With any luck, the electric company will make him a “preferred customer”, and send him to Niagara Falls to take notes.

Mean time, I am going to ACE.