The Intimacy of Junk Mail

T. Fentiman

We have all gotten junk mail before. Opening up your mailbox, with that glimmer of anticipation for that letter from grandma, the cheque you’ve been waiting for or the unexpected surprise card from uncle Carl. There is the flip side too; That dreaded feeling of, “I hope that bill isn’t in there today.” However, snuck in-between those hated debt letters and small delights are the print ephemera no one asked for and most often don’t want. Colourful little booklets meant to draw you in with words like “SALE” and “90% OFF”. These infiltrators to our personal mailbox often seem annoying and even aggravating. They are planted into OUR mailbox by no doubt a master spy whose only goal is to bother us.

Hundreds of flyers litter the streets in South Beach, Miami. Image: (cc) Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, although many of us today go about our day not noticing the constant bombardment of ads and displays vying for our slightest glance, we often don’t think of the good old flyer as a more personal way to vie for our attention. Ask yourself, what do you think has a more personal quality: the ten second ad that is simply in your way at the beginning of that youtube video your best friend sent you that everyone has seen and you look foolish because you’re always the last one to see these things? Or the flyer that someone took the time to place in your mailbox? The flyer that you read while sitting down at your kitchen table; The same table you spend every holiday sitting at with your closest (and not so close) family, and flip through casually with nothing better to do than to day dream about all the stuff you didn’t know you needed until you discovered it on page 3. Surely in your own home, sitting at your own table, paper in hand is more seductive to our sensibilities than a viral bombardment of subliminal messaging?

Paper flyers may seem like junk, but when you slow down and think about how you interact with paper verses digital advertising, paper is simply more inviting to the way people have interacted with print for centuries. I find that I even make a ritual out of going through the “no good junk mail flyers” and take my time examining each page as if there were a secret treasure only I could find.

Flipping through pages, having you search for that right page for that right thing you just have to have if only you could find out what it is. Paper flyers draw you in with their sense of familiarity similar to the way everyone reads their favorite books.

Now those of you who are reading this, saying to yourselves “ I don’t even look at flyers, I just throw them out,” may have a certain point. You are forced through those online ads to reach the promise land of that new pop music video, but ask yourself this: when the power goes out, the heat is off and your phone and laptop batteries are dead, are you going to burn them to stay warm? Probably not, but you may just reach for some of those print ephemera flyers and set them on fire, and I would bet that you may just read one or two before the night is over.

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