What’s to Become of the Post Office?

Technology not only has changed the way we communicate, it may mean the demise of a long-time and beloved institution - the United States Post Office.

I read in the newspaper recently that American households receive, on average, only one hand-written letter in the mail every seven weeks,  down from once every two weeks in 1987!  This is based on an annual survey conducted by the US Postal Service. 

Although I hadn’t really thought about it before, I guess this is pretty close to the truth at my house.  It excludes greeting cards and invitations, some of which still come by U. S. mail, and is limited to actual correspondence.  Most of my “correspondence” is by email these days or conducted verbally by phone. Up until about a year ago, I exchanged monthly letters with an aged aunt who told me everything in detail about her days – the birds out her window, her cats, flowers in her garden, doings of my cousins, etc.  I always responded because she enjoyed getting letters so much but I never put the detail into them that she did in hers.  Now she has passed away and I miss those letters.  I do make a point of sending holiday greeting cards every year and, although the Post Office excluded them from their survey, most of the cards I send as well as those I receive do include a short annual written message so I count those as correspondence.

The same survey also found that in 2010, the Postal Service had a new low in delivering bill payments – less than 50%.  Automatic deductions for bill payments  seems to be taking hold.

Recently a letter of correspondence to the Village of Croton from our Assemblywoman, Sandy Galef appeared on the Board meeting agenda.  In it Ms. Galef called on the residents, and the Village itself, to participate in a program called Catalog Choice.  This program allows people to opt out of receiving catalogues in the mail. It also allows municipalities to track local participation by zipcode.  According to Ms. Galef’s letter, 60% of the unwanted junk mail received by mail ends up in the waste stream.  This is both costly and environmentally unsound. 

We are being told that junk mail should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible to obtain environmental and cost benefits.  We are also being reminded that we are barely using the US Postal Service at all for personal communications and bill paying.  We hear daily about the budget problems of the US. Postal Service – possible decrease in days of delivery, higher cost of services, closed post offices, etc.   Fed Ex, UPS, Airborne, DHL  all provide alternative options for fast delivery of packages. So what is to become of the Post Office?  Can it find a new business model that will help it survive?  Should it survive?  Is its useful life over? What would Benjamin Franklin do?

Postscript:  Today, after writing this, I received a hand-written letter from a friend.  Serendipity.

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Roger Kraminitz October 08, 2011 at 06:00 AM
Not serendipity, merely coincidence.
Betsy Shaw Weiner October 08, 2011 at 12:21 PM
Yes, the Post Office should survive in some form. I realize that many organizations now try to save money by using e-mail, but there is official correspondence that is inappropriate for that or other forms of delivery. I could do without getting multiple catalogs, but as a person who is strongly averse to shopping in stores, I do appreciate getting some of them; outlets like Lands End, LL Bean and all the others could save themselves money and save the environment by issuing them only once a season. Like you, I always send holiday cards, with notes to most recipients, and love hearing from them in return with all their news. And when I do receive a note in the mail from a friend at any other time, I consider it a treasure. What has been lost in the use of e-mail is the record. We are getting to the point where we no longer will have books of letters to and from famous people (or others) that enable us to have new insights on the history of their times. Even family history is falling by the wayside, in many respects. And what about stamps? Perhaps you did not ever collect stamps, but I did, and they too were and are a historical record, even with the new "forever" stamps - I picked up stamps with Barbara Jordan on them the other day and thought, "where is she now that we need her." Alas.


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