How your snail mail could end up in your email inbox

Tori Floyd

It’s no secret that many of us are turning to email and electronic communication and abandoning the time-honoured craft of writing letters. If you wish to make all of your communications digital, though, and are trying to figure out how to convert those last few letter-writers to email, there’s a U.S. company that is prepared to do it for you.

Outbox mail delivery service proposes to take your physical mail and convert it to digital for you. They pick up your mail three times a week, scan it, and then send it to you digitally, so you can read it all from your iOS device, or your Android device thanks to the app released for the platform last week. It lets you sort the mail into folders, so you can collect up bills in one place and letters from loved ones in another (or whichever sorting method you so choose).

Outbox has now made its beta version of the service available to all San Francisco residents, not just its small initial testing area. The service has launched in Austin, Texas, too. For $7.99 a month, you can have your mail digitized, as well as manage which mailing lists you’re on for junk mail.

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Now, I’m all for innovation, but I personally just can’t wrap my head around the use I’d get out of this service. The reality is, unfortunately, that I just don’t get that much mail any more, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Sure, I’ll still get hand-written cards from my grandparents on my birthday, but the rest of the year, I already get most of my bills digitally, and most of my correspondence is over email. And those few times I get something special, I’d much rather have the physical letter than a scan of it. You may argue that a letter will degrade over time, but a digital file will stay pristine forever… well, sure. But I don’t think finding that file years from now will mean as much as stumbling across that card in a memory box.

It should be noted that just because your mail is being scanned and sent to you, it doesn’t mean it’s immediately being shredded. Three times a week, Outbox will deliver any mail you’ve requested directly to you and shred the rest to be sent for recycling. So if you decide you want that digital file of the card alongside the card itself, that’s certainly an option.

The security issues raised by Outbox are not lost on potential customers, either. According to Tech Crunch, Outbox attempts to alleviate these concerns by performing strict background checks on its ‘un-postmen’ (the people who pick up the mail that has been sent to you), plus shredding and recycling all the mail that isn’t requested.

“We can lay out all the extreme measures we’ve gone through to keep your mail safe, [and] there are certain people out there that just aren’t convinced by that,” company co-founder Evan Baehr told Tech Crunch. “And you know what, at the end of the day, Outbox isn’t for everybody.”

I must admit, I’m not actually convinced Outbox is for anybody. As The Verge wrote when the service first came to San Francisco back in February:

…it is bloated from start to finish: building a “revolutionary” product by piggybacking onto one of the nation’s most bureaucratic, beleaguered institutions…seems shortsighted and doomed, but it actually makes the mail experience less efficient than it is today.

With the U.S. postal service proposing measures like shipping liquor in order to make back some revenue, it seems problematic to rely so heavily on a struggling institution. And while Outbox hasn’t made any plans to come to Canada, Canada Post is certainly not without its problems, too, announcing last week that it had lost $104 million last quarter from lower mail volumes.

With a wider testing area, perhaps Outbox will prove that it is in fact a modern solution to the traditional postal service. For now, I’ve got one question for you, gentle reader: would you use this service?

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