the latest

« Screens

Outbox: The Death of Snail Mail?

Local company turns your physical mailbox into an inbox
James Renovitch, 3:45pm, Fri. Nov. 16, 2012
I've looked at the website again and again. Outbox: A service that takes your snail mail, opens it, scans it, and sends it to your iPad. My many questions have been answered on their FAQ page. They have $2.25 million in funding from the guy that invested in Facebook, so that's pretty legit. The numbers are all there, but they don't add up somehow. Here's my math:

For $5 a month a person comes to your mailbox every three days in a white Toyota Prius (as opposed to an airbrushed van, I guess), they take your mail, open it, take photos of the contents, which you then look at on your iPad. Anything you want the physical copies of are delivered to your doorstep like a package. They say that Netflix DVDs and packages will be "wrapped up securely" (whatever that means) and put directly on your doorstep or left at the office of your apartment complex. I wonder if they make other judgment calls about what you would definitely want, because I'm not someone who likes to wait for porn. Do people still get physical copies of porn?

Having been a postal carrier, my first response was that this had to be illegal. When addressing that same question – is this whole endeavor illegal – on the company's FAQ page, the answer is a somewhat coy "We sure hope so." They claim to have put a team of lawyers on the wording of their terms of service statement that grants them access to what is ultimately the property of the United States Postal Service. However, the USPS is much more strict about people putting things into mailboxes than taking things out, which is likely why Outbox delivers things they remove from your mailbox to your door rather than stuffing it back in.

There are a few strange and inexplicable details. You must have an iPad to participate for now. They're working on web accessibility (which I figured would have been first). If your mailbox locks, fear not, you can send a photo of your key and they can create a replica of that key. Seriously: They make a key from a picture. Honestly, I will forevermore be conscious of where my keys are when pictures are being taken. Thanks, Outbox, for that additional neurosis.

The upside is that you can have the mail handlers at Outbox dispose of your junk in an environmentally friendly manner or unsubscribe you from catalog lists and the like. That is unless you secretly love those random catalogs you get. No judgment.

Checks that are sent to you in the mail will be returned to you, but Outbox hopes to be able to directly deposit those checks for you. That way you might never have to interact with a human ever again. Phew.

To further complicate things, Outbox not only wants to help you limit your clutter and organize your mail better, but they ultimately want to force the creators of junk mail to transition to a paperless business model. Being that junk mail is what keeps the leaking boat that is the U.S. Postal Service afloat, that seems like a hard battle to win. Not to mention the conundrum that if Outbox were to achieve this goal, then their service would no longer be necessary.

A representative from the local post office had yet to get back to me as of this blog posting, but hopefully I'll be able to report what the handlers of the evil paper products have to say about this service.

You early adopters can enjoy a month of the service for free. Go to their website for more info and to sign up. Because, let's face it, touching physical objects is so 2012.

Next in Screens: The Sound of F1 Is the Sound of Michael Fassbender »