What’s on my mind — 02/18/20

Some things I’ve been thinking about


I moved recently. When I did so, I filled out a form on the postal service website informing that I had changed addresses and asking them to forward all mail intended for me to the new mailbox. Normal enough. But if you think about it, this service is a privacy nightmare! They asked for little to no verification that I am who I say I am. They asked for no verification of my old address or new address. I could go on their website with anyone’s name and address and get all their mail forwarded to me! A great prank for any sixth graders out there. Or a great hack for anyone attempting to steal data and identities.

While I was on the postal service’s website, I discovered that they also provide a service whereby I can receive an email with a scan of all of the envelopes I am expecting to receive at my address on a given day! Cool! I can know in advance how many bills and bits of junk mail are en route to me. But again, here’s the thing, I can also use the same service to receive an email with a scan of all the mail my mom is due to receive at her house. Or my ex-boyfriend. Or my colleague or competitor. Not great, right?

Well, I signed up for the service and have been getting these daily emails containing the envelopes of my expected mail. (Meta.) Every day roughly half of those envelopes expected to arrive at my address are addressed to people who used to live in my new home. Their names, their partners’ names, the names of their LLCs adorn the bills, tax notices, and Amazon packages that arrive at my doorstep. I know for a fact that lots of my mail is doing the same for the new tenant at my old apartment.

In the United States, we are all more mobile than ever. People move all the time, by choice, by chance, and by force. With all that address-changing, shouldn’t there be a better system?

We are used to email addresses and phone numbers that follow us wherever we go, whoever we become, for entire decades or entire lifetimes. We can use that email on any laptop or re-register our numbers to new phones. What if our postal addresses could be the same? What if we had a single postal identity that we registered to a new device (er — house, rather) every time we moved? Most importantly, what if we could do this all securely, privately?

Or maybe the solution is to just do away with snail mail altogether. That would work for me too.