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Lileks: Are millennials about to stamp out the mail?

September 23, 2018

All post offices should be closed. Except for the one closest to my house. For that matter, can we be finished with daily mail deliveries? Except when I’m waiting for a check, that is.

No one really needs mail, do they?

Not according to that fearsome group of societal disrupters, the millennials. A recent study of Virginia college students discovered that most don’t vote absentee because they didn’t know where to get stamps.

I know what you’re saying — college-aged people aren’t necessarily millennials. Wrong. Anyone under 40 who doesn’t do things the way I do is a millennial, dagnabbit. They don’t eat cereal or buy houses. They avoid chain restaurants. They’re killing the automotive industry because they all want an app that has an Uber driver deliver a bike.

In short, it’s no surprise they can’t find stamps. They couldn’t find ’em on their keister if you papered both cheeks with Forever stamps.

Excuse my outburst. First of all, it’s tiresome to bash the young for not embracing the old ways. Stamps are odd commodities. You can buy them at the grocery store, but you cannot buy bananas at the post office. You can get stamps from the ATM, even though you never mail cash, but you can’t get stamps sent by the company that makes your checks.

Everyone over a certain age has a few stamps in the junk drawer. You feel rich if you have an entire book, ready for anything: “I’m all set in case I have to send a card — which I do about as regularly as I have my furnace checked. But I’m all set.”

If some millennials are flummoxed by stamps, it just suggests a generational disinterest in mail. They’re on to something. Every day the dog barks when the mailman makes his delivery, and I tell him the same thing: “It doesn’t do any good, and it’s annoying for everyone.” I can’t remember what I tell my dog, but it’s along the same lines.

No one wants mail anymore. I wish I could catch the postal worker before he mounts the stairs: “What do you have? No, let me guess.

“A glossy catalog from a cruise line I took seven years ago that has spent every possible penny of profit trying to entice me back. The cover has a couple standing by the rail; he’s got steel gray hair, and she’s 10 years younger. They’re drinking white wine, and tomorrow they’re going ashore to give baby elephants a massage.

“A letter from a credit card company offering me 0 percent interest until 2019, after which the rates jack up so high the people in the pictures of my online banking service get nosebleeds.

“A letter from a charity I’ve never heard of — say, the Society for the Prevention of Pediatric Chafing.

“A letter from the charity to which I occasionally donate. It has a nickel visible through a glassine window, because that nickel could feed a village of 100 for six years, and now I feel as if I am starving people if I don’t send it back plus more to cover their costs.

“A thick sheaf of cards wrapped in clear plastic, so you can throw away 30 ads all at once. They offer me 10 percent off a restaurant 40 miles from my house, 10 percent off a garage organizing system, 10 percent off new kitchen cabinets, 10 percent off teeth whitening and 10 percent off landscaping, but never even 1 percent off the interest on the loan I’d have to take out to buy any of this.

“A letter addressed to the fake name my daughter gave five years ago when she signed up at the mall for some modeling contest, which they sold to a direct marketer, so now every bank in the country thinks Kate Radical is a good credit risk.

“That about cover it?”

Sad nod from the mailman.

“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”

The problem with the end of mail is the end of post offices. Granted, they’re not happy, vibrant places. They make you listen to ’70s TV cop show themes when you enter; the entire 21st century hasn’t made much of an impression.

They are important, though — not so much in a big city, but they’re crucial to a small town’s identity. When a hamlet’s post office closes, it’s as if they’re being told the rest of the world isn’t interested in them anymore. If you don’t have brisk internet, this new world of fancy-zapping communications doesn’t have the same allure. There’s going to be a gap between the grandmas who loved to get a thank you card and the grandmas-to-come who are content with a heartfelt e-mail.

Mail will end, some day. The last letter ever sent will have a stamp in the corner. And it will say “Forever.”

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks

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