Express Mail Egypt

Heba ElKest and Mona Diab


Previous Concept "Microbus Shouter"

Abstract

With the growing popularity of digital media and technology, the usage of traditional means of communication slowly become less and less popular, one of these methods is mail. In efforts to bring back its usage, this experiment was conducted. This social intervention aims to revive the usage of the snail mail in Egypt, and trigger the bottled creativity of Egyptian citizens, by tackling a certain topic. By the help of mail, the intervention tool, their opinion, and personal experience would be expressed through an interactive exhibition.

Keywords Post, Letter, Communication, Personal.


  1. Introduction
  2. Inspiration
  3. Purpose
  4. Research
  5. Intervention Overview
  6. Results and Evaluation

INTRODUCTION

After discussing the various possibilities of mobile spaces, the idea that it can take so many forms, not just as vehicles, was what was most interesting. Exploring the different manifestations and bodies, the final choice was a medium that has always been extremely important throughout the years but has lost its popularity since the technological age; mail!

Since hundreds of years people have been using letters to transfer information of all types, size, and even privacy, varying from personal letters to business or official papers. However during the last years the traffic of mail/post has decreased substantially in Egypt and probably throughout the world. Weather this last claim is true or not and the reasons behind this hypothesized decrease would be within the research issues discussed for this project. The second aim of the project is to encourage Egyptians to use this long lost tradition once again.

Our motivation for this project is rather personal, as last semester we were studying abroad in Germany, and we had to deal with post mail and the post man. It was an exciting experience, getting something by post even though it was not personal, but maybe just something ordered online. Even though technologie is in constant development, some traditional means, or solution prove to be effective, and has a certain quality which cant be substituted by technology. However, in Egypt compared to Germany, people never use mail, only rarely when it is business oriented, like phone bills, bank statements, or some advertising material.

In our opinion, the proprieties of traditional mail over a technological one are mainly that a letter is:

  1. Tangible; you can touch it, it feel it, interact with it.
  2. Personalized; it is personally directed to you, it is handwritten and it reflect your feelings.
  3. Scented; it has a certain smell, it one of the proprieties of the paper used.
  4. Various Material; you can use different, various material, like ink, paint, you can even stick collages and pictures.
  5. Sentimental Value; you put effort in creating it, which increase its value, and you usually keep it and not throw it.
  6. Unique; every letter is unique, you cant produce two of the same without using technologie.
  7. Unrestricted; it is open and can accept any number of words, any type of physical material, you are not restricted by a certain layout of digital system, it is analogue.

INSPIRATION

These two experiments have a strong link with what this project would like to tackle. First of all how would the project reach the targeted group, and second asking people to trust the piece of paper in front of them and sending it out to an anonymous receiver. Both of them are social experiments, and social interventions, which depends on the people, and their reaction.

Its a small world

Stanley Milgram an American social psychologist and some other researchers examined the average path length for social networks of people in the united states. They conducted an experiment to learn more about the probability that two random people would know each other, also counting the average path length between both. the experiment took 5 basic steps:

  1. Eventhough there were many variations, the experiment typically targeted individuals in the U.S. cities of Omaha, Nebraska and Wichita, Kansas to be the starting points and Boston, Massachusetts to be the end point of a chain. These particular cities were chosen because they were thought to represent a great distance in the United States, both socially and geographically.
  2. Initially information was sent to random individuals in Omaha or Wichita. The packets included letters, which detailed the study's purpose, and basic information about a target contact person in Boston. It additionally contained a list on which they could write their own name, as well as business reply cards that were pre-addressed to Harvard.
  3. When they received the packet, the target was asked whether they personally know the recipient. If so, they should forward the letter directly to that person.
  4. If not, then the person was to think of a friend or relative they know personally that is more likely to know the target. They would then have to sign their name and forward it to this person. A postcard was also mailed to the researchers at Harvard so that they could track the chain's progression toward the target.
  5. When and if the package eventually arrived the target, the researchers could examine the ist to count the number of times it had been forwarded from person to person. Additionally, for packages that never reached the destination, the incoming postcards helped identify the break point in the chain.
  6. The results showed that sometimes the packet would arrive to the target in only one or two posts, while other chains were composed of as many as nine or ten links. Among these chains, the average path length was around 5.5 or six. thus, the researchers concluded that people in the United States are separated by about six people on average. However, a significant problem was that often people refused to pass the letter forward, and thus the chain never reached its destination.

Postsecret

The aim of the project was that anonymous people embellish a postcard and express a secret that they had never disclosed before. No limitations are made on the content of the secret; only that it must be completely honest and must never have been spoken before. Entries range from confessions of sexual misconduct and criminal activity to acknowledgements of secret desires, embarrassing habits, hopes and dreams. The secrets hypothetically empower both the author and those who read it. Frank Warren, the founder, claims that the postcards inspire those who read them, heal for those who write them, give hope to people who relate to a stranger's secret, and create an anonymous community of acceptance.

PostSecret collected and displayed upwards of 2,500 original pieces of art from people across the United States and around the world between its founding on January 1, 2005 and 2007.

Since its founding on January 1 2005 up to 2007 PostSecret exhibited more than 2500 original piece of art. Warren is presently hosting events at various colleges to speak about the many different secrets of today's society. An art exhibition—also currently traveling the States—displays many of the hundreds of thousands of secrets he has received. In April 2008, Warren teamed up with 1-800-suicide to answer some of these anonymous pleas for help through crisis hotlines on college campuses.

Other inspirational work:

http://365lettersblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/2011-letters-project.html
http://charlottesfancy.com/2010/03/04/blog-it-forward-what-inspires-me/
http://artofletterwriting.blogspot.com/
http://goodmailday.wordpress.com/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy4yULSqBA0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1l9LSL0Tbw


PURPOSE

The main purpose of this research is to experiment with the relation between technology and traditional means of communication, especially snail mail. Writing letters and postal mail are old fashioned type of communication, yet very powerful and personal. This social/artistic experiment tries to draw people's attention to the advantages of regular mail, and tries to touch their lives, just by sharing personal experiences. Nowadays, our life has become more and more digitalized, thanks to the rapid integration of technology in everything around us. Certainly, technology has made good impact on the field of communication. However, life became more and more busy and people don't have enough time to personally communicate with each other. Therefore, a small artistic experiment was conducted to revive snail mail and personal communication. This ongoing project would aim to help people to use tangible material once more to express themselves, for the importance of tactile sensations in perceiving informations as well as feelings. The experiment would consist of a series of topics over the year on which people should express themselves and communicate that by sharing their experiences with other people.

Other aspects that would also be included in the research for their importance in understanding the mailing structure include the Egyptian Postal Service. The Egyptian Post has always been one of the most important governmental run institutions which plays an immense role not only in delivering mails and parcels, but also in contributing in the community itself, economically and politically.


RESEARCH

From the organisation point of view; How do the Egyptian Post office function? What are their services? What are the statistics of the public usage of mail within the last years? What means did the company use to enhance usage? How successful were they?

In an interview done with one of the managers of "El Ataba" Post Office, it was discovered that the Egyptian Post Office is not that interested in reviving the usage of regular mail. The main reason behind that, is that sending mail using the governmental Egyptian post is subsidized, as the customer only pays 50 Pts. to send a mail within Cairo with regular speed, which takes 3 working days, or 5 Egp. to send it with fast mail which takes 24 hours. Therefore, the organization invest more time, effort, and money on developing other provided services which brings in more profits, like money transfer, for example. As for the usage of the regular mail, it is of course decreasing with the evolution of technology and the internet. The current usage of regular mail, is now limited to sending importing papers and documents, especially within business companies, and governmental institutions. There is, however, 4 different main types for sending a mail. The first is the regular mail where it takes up to 3 days for delivery. The second type is the fast mail, which takes up to 1 day. The third one is registered mail, and this is used for important documents where a proof of sending and receiving, using signatures for example, is needed. The last category is the Advertising mail, which was used as part of the letters distribution in this project. The Advertising mail is usually used by companies, in order to send out a bigger number of advertisements as mail. In this category, there is two types of sending, either to certain address, or to random ones, where you only need to specify the area where you want to send. You can also access the Post Office database to send to a certain category of people, by jobs per example, like sending to engineers, doctors, teachers, and so on.

Another part of this research would be about how to design the structure of a successful direct mail, and how do this design affect the receiver's perception, therefore action. This part is important for the design of the letter which will be sent to the public, as the aim is to encourage many replies to be sent back. This means that the letter should grab their attention, gain their trust, and trigger their curiosity, in order to send back. This would be also conducted, by reaching out to similar projects, and asking them for their experience and feedback.


INTERVENTION OVERVIEW

The project aspires to cover most of Cairo through a citywide campaign aiming to remind Egyptians of the benefits, authenticity and fruitful assets of regular mail, while encouraging them to express themselves without fear, hesitation or timidity. As the project deals with mail, envelopes and letters, a letter intervention was planned. The primary idea was that this experimental project would utilize the medium participants are encouraged to use, to invite and persuade them to get involved. So hand made letters were designed and through different methods, intended to reach the target. The invitation would request the people to send back to a determined address their point of view on a certain topic. This way they would experience how simple it is to send a letter, the exhilaration of sending one, as well as the chance to speak their minds and get their point of view through to someone else, in an anonymous manner if they wish to.

Letter Topic

The topic to be sent to participants, had to be motivating and encouraging enough for people who haven’t sent a letter in years to participate. It also had to have a persuasive connection with the medium itself (i.e. letters). Perhaps reflecting upon its capabilities, past contexts, messages it frequently carries or even the material. Primary ideas included:

  1. Express Democracy; as it is something which fits to the recent events and changes happening in Egypt. Democracy now is what every nation desires, and is the main cause of each and every revolution. After 25 january 2011, each Egyptian wants his voice to be heard, thus, democracy would be an interesting topic which would attract them and encourage them to send back.
  2. An Advice for the Futur president; this topic is as well related to the current events. Since most of the population of Egypt was ruled by only one president, it would be interesting to know, with the current and ongoing change of the Egyptian mentality, what would people give as a advice to the next president of Egypt.
  3. What would you say to the younger you; allowing more personal communication, which is one of the main characteristics of writing letters

A subject that would be broad enough to allow for artistic input and innovative expression yet still controlled enough to keep participants on topic while covering the initial project aims: Express Change. The invitation asked people to express a recent change that happened recently, or how they define change. When two people communicate through writing they usually discuss recent changes that happened in their lives, or ask for any news that happened to the other party, so the theme fulfilled the aim of staying in the norm of letter sending. Also it describes the recent events that happened to all Egyptians in the last period and affected them in one way or another. A lot of creativity was shown throughout the “revolution period” at Tahrir square in Cairo and other parts across Egypt by means of posters, blogs, petition signs and so on, demanding change. As a consequence of this theme, the project hopes that the creativity and freedom of speech mentioned above is reflected in participant’s letters.

FINAL LETTER DESIGN

Some of the factors existent in regular mail in contrary to e-mail, is that the mailer can make it personalized with their own handwriting, and unique through adding scents or embellishments freely. These elements had to be included in the letter design to accentuate their importance and distinctiveness. Another reason why this was necessary was to encourage participants to be innovative and include in their artwork/letter design elements of their own to make their contribution more distinct and more expressive of themselves. Below is the process showing the quest to producing 400 handmade letters, taking care of the letter content, design elements and envelope design.

DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS

A main objective was to reach the largest amount of potential participants possible within the set budget and time-span. This included covering a range of Cairo’s demographics whether it is their social class, age or the district in which they live. The locations of distribution should be aimed to confront these aspects. To ensure this, 3 forms of distribution channels were planned out.

1- Direct mailing is a facility offered by the Egyptian Post, through which companies can advertise their products and services. Through the Post it is possible that business’s promotions can literally reach -ongoing and prospective- customer’s houses. The project adopted this route, in order to reach random people of different social classes. Trying to aim at this specific factor. 10 districts within Cairo were selected and sent to randomly; Heliopolis, Down town, Rehab, Haram, Imbaba, El Sayeda Zeinab, Zamalik, Dokki, Maadi and Shubra.

2- To target people who seem to be more interested in artistic and social experiments, such as this one, the strategy included placing posters in bookshops and/or art centers. A poster was placed in a Bookshop in Nasr City, called Bikya. A new second hand bookshop/café with high traffic that is very popular amongst private university students. Out of the 400+ invitation letters produced, about 50 – 100 were left, i.e. not placed at Bikya or sent out by mail. Later another method of sharing was handing out the closed envelopes to random passersby on the street or the university campus.

3- Of course using the internet to spread the word on the project was an issue that was debated. On one hand it seemed as though this analog-based project had to fall back on digital advances to succeed. However in the presence of other “analog” distribution channels and the designed letters it seemed convincing. Also the fact that this project acknowledges that digital ways of communication like e-mailing are still very important and that this project is not fighting against this movement but trying to revive a “forgotten” means of communication. Thus a blog page was constructed to keep people updated, as well as social networks like a Facebook and Twitter.

Blog: http://expressmailegypt.wordpress.com/
Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=181459325236628

4- The final procedure made to further spread the word about the project was a motion graphics movie aspiring to go viral through the social networks, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The animation can be seen below. By the deadline date of the project on the 5th of June the animation had already gotten more than 3,000 views of which more than 1,000 were in the first 24 hours of posting it.

EXHIBITION DESIGN

The exhibition design would reflect the concept of physical "analogue" interaction and the idea of "give and take" meaning sharing experiences. Therefore, POBoxes with multiple slots will be displayed in the exhibition, allowing viewers to participate with their our thoughts and opinions. At the entrance, a set of tools would be display for the viewers to help them express their own change experience. Tools like; pen, pencils, colors, stickers, colored paper, white paper, and of course envelops and stamps will be available for them to use and express their experience. It should not be long nor complicated, just simple enough to allow them to participate in the exhibition. Each viewer take his envelop and place it in an empty drawer like slot of one of the displayed POBox. He then close the drawer, which will allow the other part of the drawer to appear from the back, with someone's else letter, as the drawer is designed to always show one of its sides as explained in the below illustration. The viewer pick the letter, reads it, then put it in another empty slot (drawer) in order to get a new letter, a new story to read. By this, the viewer would enter a cycle of sharing experiences, where he has to give a letter in, in order to get one back. All POBoxes inside would already have half of them filled with the letters received from the social experiment, and the other half is to be filled by the viewers of the exhibition.

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RESULTS AND EVALUATION

RECEIVED LETTERS

By the 11th of June 2011, 30 letters all arriving from different locations and areas within Cairo had reached the mailbox.

When it comes to the characteristics of the arrived participations, most of them were written letters, while only a few contained some sort of artwork. Also languages differed from English, literature Arabic and Egyptian Arabic, usually written by hand, although only one letter was typed.

VIEWER AND PARTICIPANTS FEEDBACK

One way of knowing feedback on the whole project concept, was through what some people had added in their letters, explaining how they haven’t done this in years or being grateful for a positive movement at such a critical. The substantial amount of feedback however came from digital channels. Since there was a communication bridge built between the event organizers and participants via social networks like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook as well as an online blog, it was very easy to get instant feedback of what the part of the Egyptian public we could reach thought of the experiment.

The interesting part however, is how many people started sharing itthe motion graphics animartion again through Facebook and more importantly how the number of blog views increased in that period. This showed that the people didn’t just watch the movie and appreciate the graphics and animations, but actually thought about the experiment long enough to want to learn more and follow the link connecting the video to the blog.

LIMITATIONS

Trying to inform a city of 20 million people of a social/artistic experiment is not particularly an easy thing to do, especially with a student budget! A very important factor when it comes to a project like this is being able to raise awareness that its taking place, as its success depends completely on whether or not people participate.

Another critical aspect is time. The project had to be rushed, and thus led to a limited number of people knowing about it. The very first letters sent out were posted on the first of May 2011, while the deadline for sending was on the fifth of June 2011. And since the project depended a lot on word of mouth, and sharing links, one month is probably not enough time for the idea to circulate.

The time factor also seemed to affect people’s initiative to participate in the experiment or the lack of it. The short time span showed that some prospective participants, thought pessimistically about the time frame, and didn’t even try to send blaming that there would not be enough time for them to think, create and send the letter on time. This was reported more than once through the Facebook event.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

Mail is not just a bunch of letters and parcels, there is a critical emotional value that comes with sending and receiving each delivery, not only that but also economical and political influence. This sets the importance of the whole postal system. When it comes to this project, there was mostly positive feedback. People encouraged the idea through their comments and writings reminiscing on feelings of nostalgia and memories. However, number of contributions relative to number of people invited through the various distribution channels and message sharing was quite low. Assumptions and Inferences of why this may have happened are ascribed to two factors. First of all the time span of the experiment was very limited, and thus established a cynical attitude in some people thinking they wont be able to complete all the steps in time. The other factor is the general Egyptian attitude and their lack of motivation. Since this topic was the first of hopefully many to come, it has been very revealing of problems that should be anticipated and paid attention to in coming themes. Better time management and planning would have to be considered. Not only that but more persuasive ideas would have to be generated in order to encourage Egyptians to go out of their way and comfort to experience the advantages of regular mail and postal services.