Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him. 

Standing on the front edge of my suburban property, I have a very strange device. It
is called a letterbox.
Once upon a time, its narrow slot used to swallow real personal letters. People wrote letters in those days. That is why it is called a letterbox.
Now there is the very occasional personal letter, and a burst of personal messages wrapped in greetings cards around Christmas time. But the custom of sending personal messages by surface mail has died. People now tend to send them by e-mail or text or (if they want to share them with the whole wide world) Facebook. The electronic has overtaken the material and handwritten.
These days, my letterbox tends to ingest bills, fines, one weekly newspaper, a couple of magazines to which I have subscriptions, publicity material from publishers and sundry other things.
It also ingests a prodigious amount of junk advertising.
And thereby hangs my tale.
This week, checking my letterbox as I am wont to do a number of times per day when I have too much time on my hands, I found, delivered all at one time, over 200 pages – count ‘em, over 200 - of advertising material.
Let me catalogue them like a bibliographer.
There were three separate touts for three separate real estate agents, Barfoot and Thompson, Harcourt’s and L.J.Hooker (well, I do live in Auckland). They all wanted me either to sell my house or to buy another, neither of which I have the least intention of doing
There were 24 pages of newsprint advertising Bunnings, a handyman franchise and trader in tools, building equipment and the like - blissfully unaware that my idea of being a handyman is limited to mowing the lawn and occasionally clearing the gutters or mending a fuse. The same futile appeal was made by a 12-page glossy from Repco.
There was a tout for a gym – an establishment of a sort which I never have used and probably never will use
There were glossy flyers for Domino Pizzas, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King, eateries which I do not patronise (although I am happy to be patronising towards the people who do). Presumably they are in league with the gym as their fat-saturated products would generate some of the gym’s needy clientele.
A 16-page brochure from JB HI-FI wanted me to upgrade my phone, computer, television, headphones, remote, household appliances etc. etc. But then a 24-page glossy from Noel Leeming was trying to induce me to do exactly the same thing.
A 26-page throwaway from K-Mart tried to sell me children’s clothing (sorry, I don’t wear it).
A 24-page brochure from The Warehouse said I could get super summer savings, apparently not understanding that pre-Christmas and immediately post-Christmas are when we do such miscellaneous bargain shopping
A 12-page glossy from Warehouse Stationery (yes, quite a different business form The Warehouse) wanted to prepare me for going “back to school”. But then so did an 8-page brochure from Office Max. And so did 24 pages from Harvey Norman before it moved on to selling electronic equipment. 16 pages worth of Whitcoull’s advertising tried to sell me books and stationery and children’s games.
The only piece of junk that vaguely interested me were the 12 pages of newsprint listing “specials” at the supermarket where I do the family shopping every Saturday morning. But even that held my attention for all of about 30 seconds. After all, I already know what’s on the shopping list when I set out, and I find the “specials” for myself if they are things I have already determined to buy.
I remind you that this huge and redundant pile of glossy and matte paper was all delivered at the same time into the same letterbox.
A number of obvious thoughts spring to mind.
First, isn’t this an incredibly inefficient way of advertising anything? What potential consumer would possibly want to wade through all this? Surely, at best and at any time, any recipient of this mass of paper might be interested in one or two of the advertised products and services. Yet I can only assume that (like the equally unsolicited, irrelevant, bulky, glossy Property Press, which comes through my letterbox each week) this form of advertising has some effect, or printers wouldn’t continue to be paid for churning it out. All but the most incompetent entrepreneur can spot an unnecessary overhead, after all.
Second, what a tremendous waste of paper such a delivery is. People say that forests are depleted to produce books and newspapers, but what huge square miles of trees must going into producing this rubbish.
Wiseacres have sometimes told me that I could avoid such unwelcome visitations if I put one of those “No Circulars” or “No Junk Mail” signs on my letterbox. But I have rarely heard of delivery boys and girls paying the slightest notice to them. (The low-paid delivery people are mainly concerned to get their run over with as soon as possibly without examining the niceties of signage.)
So I sighed as I always sigh when hundreds of pages of bilge are delivered to me. Naturally I did what you probably do, and consigned it as once to the wastepaper box. In a couple of weeks it will be collected with other paper for recycling; and doubtless in due course the paper will be resurrected as further redundant and unread flyers which will follow the same route.

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