Mailman’s role minimized in the global village

Now in spite of what my children may think, I was not alive 100 years ago. But, I am old enough to remember a time when mail was different, very different. For one thing, if someone wanted to read an out-of-town newspaper, chances are they had it delivered by mail. I remember my father receiving copies of the Toronto and Montreal newspapers in the mailbox. They were delivered by a mailman – nobody ever heard the term “letter carrier” back then – who wore a very military uniform, complete with forage hat and cap badge. Back then the mail was royal, and the various letterboxes were mostly green with a very official coat of arms emblazoned on the front.

I also recall that mail was the only way my family, which by the 1950s had members in three continents, was able to keep in touch. We didn’t correspond every week, or even every month, but the annual Christmas card, with a four- or five-page letter and a photograph or two stuffed inside, was a regular event. Other family mail included “courtesy invitations” to family events. Nobody expected anyone to undertake a transatlantic voyage to attend such events, but it helped us all feel connected. Back in those days almost nobody made intercontinental phone calls. But then not all my relatives even had telephones. There was pretty much always mail, every day, and it was real mail. I don’t know if “junk mail” even existed back then, but back then almost every single communication between my family and the rest of the world seemed to be through that little black box beside the front door.

Today, things are very different indeed. Most people don’t even get a local paper delivered to their house, and mail is delivered by a letter carrier, who may have snappy attire, but not a military look. The mail authority is now called Canada Post, so I guess it isn’t royal. Today, most communications are paperless. Junk mail has been given the classy name of ad mail. The good news is that its growth has been matched with another new development, the blue recycling bin. Most of that stuff doesn’t even make it past the threshold anymore. I communicate with my close family and friends using email. With the passing of time I am less in contact with my various cousins, but now I exchange pleasantries with former high school companions who live all over the world, and regular greetings with “friends” I have never met in person. The annual Christmas card has been replaced by the Facebook page.

Recently, philatelic luminary Charles Verge entered the realm of social networking for the first time. One mutual friend jokingly welcomed him to the dark side; I suspect he should be welcomed to the global village. In the 1960s Marshall McLuhan suggested electronic technology allowed the virtually instant movement of information that would bring political and social functions together and raise human awareness. The irony is that McLuhan wrote that 50 years ago, in the world I described earlier on this page. A true visionary, he saw the impact of the Internet before it even existed. Today we do live in a global village. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, Twitter and more, Charles is about to discover that he now lives in a global village.

In a real village everyone knows everyone else’s business. Today, people who live thousands of miles apart are able to know when the other does dishes, what they had for dinner, and even the state of their cat. In another 100 years, I doubt that most Canadians will even have home delivery of their mail. Letters and packages will travel from revenue post office to revenue post office on contracted out third-party carriers. We will receive emails to let us know when something had been delivered. The entire Canada Post operation will be run by a relatively small staff in one building.

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