Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Death of a mailbox

Mum was a bit distraught when I told her that her letter hadn't reached me in time for my 40th birthday. It bounced back to her a week later as Returned to Sender. She sent the letter again, using my postcode this time. At my request, she included the original envelope. It arrived promptly this time.

The original envelope was in Mum's familiar writing, old school style. Any human could read have it as Wellington. Unfortunately, the machines that exclusively sort mail these days have an eye for numbers not calligraphy. Copper-plated is outdated. If only she had spent a dollar more, she could have been assured that a courier would do the same trick in the first place, a more human component at a premium. Error correction.

Truth be told, I can never remember what my postcode is anyway. 60 something. 12? 30? The UK and US have had postcodes and zipcodes embedded for generations. But New Zealand has never adapted to the whole postcode thing. At all.

The last really Herculean attempt at doing so was a few of years ago. NZ Post invested significant capital into some FLMS (Fucking Large Mail Sorting) drums and a huge consumer information campaign of postcode awareness, in an attempt to maintain service and efficiency during the last gasping breaths at the extinction of the mailbox.

Since then, NZ Post has some serious competition with DX Mail for the bulk business mail, which makes up the cream of the last profitable empire of letter delivery. Postcodes are embedded in business billing systems. NZ Post code or DX Mail code, same difference to them. The red line is in the foreseeable future for NZ Post. Change up or change down, change all the same. You heard as much from NZ Post chairman Jim Bolger on Nine to Noon today.

On a personal level, I wouldn't notice whether the mail delivery agent delivered daily or weekly, up the steps at the mailbox or at a community mail hub. Apart from Mum, the only other mail is the IRD. That mail sits unopened in the Shrodinger's Shoebox. It's an experiment I'm running to see whether the cost of paperwork IRD sends me might exceed the debt they're chasing. I'm predicting an equilibrium in two years, but buggered if I'm opening an envelope to see if I'm right.

So let's blow the bugle for the quaint and humble mailbox. The last thirty years have not been kind to it. First the milk delivery went, then the newspapers. Your last useful function is as dead as former postie poet James K Baxter. Amen, Penny Black.