Day 99: Return to Sender

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April 8, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra

I love getting mail.  Messages take on a whole new dimension when they’re written by hand, carried through physical space non-instantaneously and cost a few cents.  I look forward to opening my mailbox, whereas I greet my inbox as a bit of an obligation.  Opening a letter, or better yet – a package – is like a little dose of Christmas.  Even if your mailbox is sometimes cluttered with bulk mail, magazines, advertisements and bills, the rare occasion when a letter from a friend or a card from grandma makes sorting through the snail mail totally worthwhile (admit it, you grope and weigh anything sent by grandma to determine the likelihood of it containing a check, too).  Those occasions, though, really are becoming too rare.  Snail mail is not merely at risk of a slow death – it’s undergoing one as we speak.  Thousands of post offices are shutting down as fewer and fewer of us take the time and the stamps to communicate by print and post.  Today’s project wants us to take a moment and reflect on the decisions we’re making – to reassess the value of a format we might cast off with sentiments of obsolescence.

Post Haste is an exhibition exploring the heart of the US Postal Service as a public and personal service of delivering, well, just about anything.  We’re seeing it now in what might its final days – or at least the final days of its present incarnation, and whether something else steps forward to fulfill the duties our postal service carries out, the legacy of the USPS will be preserved through this reflection.

The U.S. Postal Service has struggled to remain relevant since the advent of digital media. Today, lightning-fast communication has replaced old-fashioned civilities, like physical correspondence and direct human interaction, because they often seem cumbersome and archaic in comparison. Post Haste examines these orphaned systems, like the Post Office, that once relied on actual, genuine human beings who are now being replaced by automated, whizz-bang electronic processes.

Jayna Swartzman is orchestrating the exhibit as more than a eulogy for a withering institution, but also as a showcase for creative examination of what our move away from the written word means for all of us as we communicate with one another.  With eight contributing artists and designers, the exhibition will have you thinking about what getting a letter means to you, and whether you’d miss it if it were never to happen again.  It might even help you find an excuse to write somebody a letter, even if only to say hello.  Buying a roll of stamps will help keep the postal system alive for a few hours longer, but backing Post Hate on Kickstarter might help a thousand others rediscover the value of stamps, envelopes, ink and long-hand composition.  The showcase will premier on May 4, but you have until May 2 to help make it happen.


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