Friday, January 06, 2006

Privacy and community

My daughter wanted to mail a card to someone who lives here in town, but she didn't know the P.O. box number. She asked the postmistress for the number, and was told that that information is private. She was quite irked at that, arguing that if we lived in a city, where there is door-to-door mail delivery, she could just look up the street address in the phone book, so what's the difference? In practise, we can just put the person's name on the letter, without the box number, and it will be delivered. The postmistress advised my daughter to do that.

However, I recall an incident a while ago, where a whole shipment of United Church Observer magazines got sent back to the publisher rather than put in the mailboxes, because the labels had only names and not box numbers. This was not a new situation, just a new postmistress. The subscriptions were paid by the church on behalf of its members, and the church had never asked its members to supply their box numbers. It hadn't been necessary. So, there was a big campaign to find out each member's box number and get it added to the subscription information.

All that aside, I got thinking about published directories, and privacy, and community. It crossed my mind that we could make a community directory of P.O. box numbers, with listings voluntary. But then I thought--no. For the small convenience, it would not be worth the exposure to ad mail. More importantly, I thought, even the small convenience may have a cost, in the long run. These days, it is possible to insulate yourself from a great deal of personal contact by getting your information through the printed word. If you can find all the information you need in a handy booklet, or here on the Internet, you may not go ask your mother or your neighbour or that friend of a friend who would surely know. Each time that you don't ask, there's a little thread of connection that doesn't get made, and your community is weaker for it.


lance said...

Hey Laura,

Please excuse my OT post . . . well, maybe not quite OT (regarding community). I added you without permission to the the Sask Blogs blogroll. If you don't think that's right, let me know at

If you're okay with that, or better, in favour, you do have the option of adding the blogroll to your site as well (completely optional, but, you know, nudge, nudge).

You can email me at the above for details or see my post on it at this post.


Walter Jeffries said...

That is so odd about the POB being 'private'. I've never heard of such a thing. Our post mistress will give you the info, and she'll walk over and stick it in the box for you right then if you're at the counter. Not only that but thing addressed to Walter at my zipcode have gotten to me. Small towns I guess. :) She services about a half dozen towns - total population is probably under 2,000 or 3,000 although I don't know for sure.