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"Snail mail" is a term used to refer to mail that is sent in the traditional way — through the postal service — rather than by email, fax, or other electronic means of communication. It is given this name because it can be very slow, as is a snail. Postal mail generally takes two or three days to go from origin to destination, if not many more, whereas email can be sent instantly.
With email, a message is sent directly from a user's mail program to another person's email address. Though many email messages simply contain words, they may also include photos or other digital files, such as songs, or links to websites. Since most people in Western society now use email on a regular basis, snail mail has gone out of fashion for simple letters, though it is still necessary for sending packages or legal documents that require signatures.
Though the postal service seems to have gone out of style for many uses today, it has a long history all over the world. The first postal systems in the world originated in Persia and China, and date back to possibly as early as 1700 BC. These early mail systems relied on messengers who rode horses from town to town, and most mail was delivered to government officials or royals.
Today, snail mail is sent through both public and private services, and it can be delivered internationally. In the United States, the US Postal Service is the most common method of delivery for a letter or package, though private carriers are frequently used by online retailers to ship their goods. Under the postal service method, individuals pay for the service by pasting stamps on their letter or package, which are equivalent to a specific amount of money. The price to send a piece of mail varies depending on the package's weight and whether or not it is traveling internationally.
Until the 1990s, it was very common to send personal letters using the postal service. Many people have stored collections of letters from friends and loved ones, and the personal correspondence of many writers, artists, and other celebrities have been compiled into books. With the advent of email communication, postal mail is used much less frequently for personal letters; however, it is still the only method for sending larger packages from one place to another. Although its uses have changed over the years, it is still a valuable system.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is snail mail and why is it called that?
Snail mail refers to the traditional method of sending letters and packages through the postal service. It is colloquially called "snail mail" due to its relatively slow speed compared to electronic mail (email), reminiscent of the slow pace of a snail. In an age where instant communication is prevalent, snail mail has become synonymous with any postal correspondence that takes days or weeks to reach its destination.
How does snail mail compare to email in terms of usage today?
While email has surpassed snail mail in terms of speed and convenience for everyday communication, snail mail remains relevant for specific purposes. According to the United States Postal Service, in 2020, 129.2 billion pieces of mail were processed, indicating that traditional mail is still in use for legal documents, direct marketing, and personal correspondence that benefits from a tangible touch. Email, however, is the go-to for quick, informal, and business communications.
What are the environmental impacts of using snail mail?
The environmental impact of snail mail is significant due to the resources used in paper production, transportation, and delivery. The production of paper requires water, energy, and trees, contributing to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation of physical mail also leads to carbon emissions. However, many postal services are adopting eco-friendly practices, such as using recycled materials and electric delivery vehicles, to mitigate these effects.
Is snail mail more secure than electronic mail?
Snail mail is often considered more secure than email due to the physical barriers to interception. While email can be vulnerable to hacking, phishing, and other cyber threats, traditional mail requires someone to physically tamper with it, which is a criminal offense. However, both forms of communication have their vulnerabilities, and it's essential to take precautions like using secure mailing methods and encryption for sensitive information.
What are some unique uses of snail mail that cannot be replicated by email?
Snail mail offers a personal touch that email cannot replicate, making it ideal for sending handwritten letters, postcards, and greeting cards that convey a sense of warmth and thoughtfulness. Additionally, it is used for official documents requiring original signatures, notarization, or physical presence, such as legal contracts, passports, and certificates. Snail mail also allows for the shipping of physical items, gifts, and samples that cannot be sent electronically.