Thursday, May 23, 2013

Stamp it Out

Canada Post wants people to accept junk mail again. They claim that people will benefit by being closer to their community if they accept junk mail, when this is a pitiful last-ditch attempt to make paper mail relevant again to an online and paperless society. While it's understandable that Canada Post has to do something to keep it alive and kicking, this is definitely a step in the wrong direction.

The organization is delusional if they think that anyone in their right mind believes that junk mail will link them into their community. Saving 50 cents on soup doesn't make you an engaged citizen. Junk mail is just that: junk. It's stuff that nobody wants to know that they couldn't figure out on their own if they just searched on Google. It's a tired medium that people have no time for and just adds to the recycling bins at the end of the week.

It also perpetuates the notion that Canada Post exists so that grandma can send you a birthday card once a year with a $5 bill in it. The image of people eagerly awaiting and sifting through junk mail belongs to another era.

If Canada Post wants to stay relevant, they need to do it in a way that is actually relevant. They had the right idea when they thought that people want to be linked in to their community- that bit is true. So they should be innovating off this idea that you can engage meaningfully through the mail.

The future of Canada Post is not going to be in delivering letters, it will be through delivery. With more and more people online, more of us order online and those things need to get to us somehow. While FedEx and UPS lead the pack, let's be realistic: how many of us are home Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm? It's far more reasonable to think that we can get to a Canada Post outlet and pick things up ourselves or that smaller things will show in our boxes.

The best innovation by far that Canada Post has had in recent years was their Christmas Turtles promotion, where you could send a pack of Turtles chocolates anywhere in Canada. The idea was sweet, cute and easy. It tapped into that idea of engaging with others through the mail and sending a thought, a treat, a surprise. More ideas like this year round would make more of us willing to head to a post office.

Canada Post should also aggressively recruit local Canadian-based businesses in order to be their exclusive carrier. We shop online a lot more now and the appetite to support local is there. This organization is going to have to compete and that would not be a bad thing for Canadians. But junk mail? Recycle that idea.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sharing the Misery

Today, I read with interest, a column by a New York family undertaking the "Live Below the Line" challenge, spending a week living on $1.50 per day of food to get a sense of the extreme poverty line according to the World Bank. The couple decided to keep their young children out of the challenge and opted to try it for themselves, with cheat items like seasonings and cereal, and gladly accepting donations in the forms of cookies at work, when they were offered by friends.

The intention of the couple after this exercise is to donate the money that they would have otherwise spent on themselves during the course of a regular weeks' worth of groceries and have a greater awareness of how hard things can be for other people. It's a laudable goal, a good cause and it's probably a good example to their children so that they can learn and appreciate all that they have. But what really surprised me were the comments.

What could be so offensive about trying to live on a reduced budget and help other people in need? Apparently, it's the very fact that this couple even had the choice which is the problem. The backlash came from those people who have lived this way themselves, have been forced to include their children because there simply was no money available, and who couldn't afford in any way to cheat with seasonings or cream cheese. The tone of the article may have come across particularly bad when the author referred to this process as trying to solve a puzzle and trying to get it right- as if this was a game, when for many, this is a question of basic survival.

While this probably and justifiably caused the backlash, in the author's defense, I would like to say that this is still a good thing to do. Many anti-poverty movements are based on sharing the wealth, but it's not such a bad thing to share the misery, either. On the one hand, it causes increased awareness of what other people go through, empathy, relativity towards food and our attitude towards it and a general feeling against waste.

When you're forced to see food as a necessity and not a luxury and think about what you CAN have rather than what you would LIKE to have, it brings home the basic message that everyone has to eat and make good, responsible choices. You get a greater appreciation of the wealth and abundance that exists in the Western world and how this enriches your life. You also don't waste a scrap or conveniently 'forget' about lettuce. A reduced budget also means that you don't have access to convenience foods which are pre-packaged, meaning that you have to think and plan out your meals. This exercise teaches us to be more reasonable in our needs and many would agree that this is a lesson that people in the Western world sorely need.

So perhaps this couple should not be patting itself on its backs or making a big show of all that they have learned, although the article doesn't reek of self-congratulations, as some commentators suggest. A week of poverty living doesn't exactly make you Jesus or 'one of the people.' It can make you more aware and more responsible. It's a small lesson and a good reminder- and nothing to sniff at. Sacrifice, however small, is still sacrifice. These people aren't throwing caviar out the window. And you can bet that they're looking around the grocery store with very different, more considerate, eyes.