Canada Post doesn’t understand humans: Mallick
What’s the most cheerful thing I can say about Canada Post’s now-suspended “community mailboxes”? They will stand as warnings.
They’re this year’s heads-on-spikes of the Elizabethan era, reminding the populace of what happens when we let Crown corporations — owned by us and supposedly run by us — bully the populace. Oliver Cromwell was already not in great shape when Charles II’s people dug him up three years after his 1658 burial and stuck his head on a tall pole at Westminster Hall, but that didn’t stop them. And there the thing stayed for decades until a mighty windstorm brought it down.
Like Cromwell’s battered ball, Canada’s grey, slablike, impossibly ugly mailboxes are already shabby with a salty winter yet to come, but they will remain, including the ones Canada Post hastily installed the week after the Liberals won the election.
I have always been frustrated by the failure of designers and architects to understand local materials and weather. Plastic doesn’t age well. Neither do people, and lack of mobility is a surging problem, not a vanishing one. Grey is not a great colour for winter’s pale light. Installations need shelter overhead, built-in hats for people shoved outdoors for a dreary unwilling trek. Think about filling up the gas tank. Do you enjoy that experience? Don’t you think gas stations should be built under lids? I do, extremely.
For this mess, we thank Deepak Chopra. No, not the tonic-dispensing American intellectual but the Canada Post CEO whose five-year contract has just been renewed, who once said seniors had told him the mailboxes offered a chance at fresh air and exercise.
Never before had Canada Post been in such a rush to not deliver the mail.
The boxes were sometimes placed, without local permission, far from their scraped-off landing pads, without a spot for cars to stop, or on a hillock where people in wheelchairs can’t reach them. Short people have been assigned mailboxes too high for them to reach — I had initially thought mail pickup would be a cute way to finance the lifestyles of small underemployed children — and you just know someone’s going to get their arm stuck in one.
I understand that many areas have had these eyesores in place for decades but that doesn’t mean we wanted more of them. Urban real estate is valued and intensely demarcated; there is often nowhere to install these Little Lubyankas and add on all the things Canada Post forgot, like recycling bins for junk mail and discarded packaging. And who is to clear them of snow?
Then there is the absurdity of these things to begin with. One of the great assumptions of the digital era was the death of paper. As it turned out, we enthusiastically printed things out and used more office paper than ever. Junk mail remains popular because it actually reaches people, as online ads tend not to.
Canada Post may well be installing cheap outdoor mail slots to force people into those sad new big-box postal “lab” outlets that look like the foyers of hockey rinks — they dispense “stamps” and “parcels”— but they misunderstand humans. Deplorable as Amazon is, it gets us. Humans like objects. We like our stuff, so give it to us.
I was struck by a recent Douglas Coupland column in the Financial Times of London headlined “Why I love shopping.” The great Coupland, who has always understood the complications behind simplicity, grew up in an isolated alpine Vancouver suburb and was entranced by city life. “I was a prisoner of remoteness,” he wrote, “and as a result of this, to this day retail seems like magic to me. You walk into a space filled with well-lit, cunningly arranged, tantalizing objects, you see something you like, you hand over this stuff called ‘money’ and they give you what you want.”
And this is what Canada Post doesn’t get. As the CBC’s Don Pittis has written so intelligently, the Conservatives abandoned the “dense urban areas where home delivery works best” and stopped listening to what we, the owners of the service, wanted. Which is stuff, which we had paid money to have delivered to us in an era of hard work and little free time and money.
Instead of these warty community mailboxes, why not have urged Canadians to install personal mailboxes for large objects? Why not have offered home mail delivery twice or once a week instead of daily?
Canada Post thinks it can reopen post offices as community hubs, to use that meaningless phrase. Instead they will be what Coupland referred to, the Japanese phenomenon called sabishii. It’s “when you look at a restaurant from outside but there’s nobody in it, which is kind of depressing, so you don’t go in . . . which reinforces the restaurant’s sabishii-ness and soon the restaurant goes out of business.”
Community mailboxes will be the sabishii of the 2020s, if not sooner. Deliver or die.