The Death of the Letter?

BALTIMORE (AP) - Mailboxes are going the way of phone booths. More of us are paying our bills online and using the Internet to send our correspondence, so the U.S. Postal Service has decided it needs fewer mailboxes. (WTOP)

The first question that jumped to my mind is how does the USPS expect me to mail a letter when I cannot find a mail box? The second question is, will there be any letters twenty years from now? Or less?

This is not as trivial a concern as you might expect. Until September 11, 2001, mail boxes were a fairly easy object to find (outside of Washington DC that is – most of our mail boxes were removed following the Murrah Building bombing). Following September 11, many of the remaining mail boxes were put on trucks and hauled away for security reasons. You may find it strange, however, that less than a block from the White House, outside the vary agency I work at, there is a blue, USPS mail box. I wonder how long that will last.

The USPS is dealing with one of those chicken and egg problems. People are sending fewer letters, so, from a cost perspective, getting rid of unneeded mail boxes makes sense but if you get rid of them, how do people mail their letters?

Now there are those of you out there that are reading this that could not tell me the last time you mailed a letter, or even what the current price of a stamp is (it went up a couple of months ago by the way). But there are still some of us that have to mail letters. And by letters, I mean bills. My utility company, part of my city’s infrastructure only takes cash (at the window) or cheques (through the mail or at the window) and being a good bureaucracy, they are open between 0900 and 1700 Monday through Thursday and close at 1400 on Friday. Of course, I work for a living, like most people and I am at work pretty much during those hours, so I have to mail my payment to them if I want to keep the lights on and the water running. They have explained why they do not do electronic funds transfers – I believe they cited the costs and that is that. They are not alone by the way of the companies that I have to do business with, but the number of people that do not do “payment on-line” is becoming fewer and fewer.

My second problem is that I have family members. Some of them over the age of 12 and they like getting the occasional card from me. I am sure you are probably in the same boat – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Birthdays etc. It is very difficult to have a “Hallmark moment” (I am sure that phrase is copyrighted and registered etc) electronically (although you can). Finally, occasionally, I am required to put pen to paper (or electron to toner) and send a real honest to goodness letter. Usually it is of the “please donate to my cause” type but occasionally it is something else and this requires me to put a stamp (a small adhesive piece of paper indicating payment or credit of a specified amount for those that have never seen one) on an envelope and go looking for the little blue box (or a post office).

Are we going to see the death of the post? Like the much heralded death of books, I think the prediction of its demise is greatly exaggerated. Now if you will excuse me, it is that time of the month and I need to send a cheque to my utility…where did I put my stamps…


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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Mailbox = paper = chop trees = end of human race

David Tangye's picture

The sooner people start looking at the big picture the better.

Its pathetic really. Everyone ohs and ahs and tut tuts about the environment's problems, and then promptly forgets it and starts prattling on about mailboxes and what a problem it is that they are disappearing. Wake up people. Try to connect a few dots: its not hard. Then tell whoever that you do not deal in paper. Don't read them. Don't mail them. Don't pay with them. If you do you are yet one more agent of the planet's destruction. You are part of the problem, not the solution. Outside of the dunny, I see little reason to have ANY paper in your house, or your business, unless its a legal document that requires a signature, and even that is debatable. Of course the old dinosaurs in corporate institutions will choke on their soup at this thought, but then again, we do all know where dinosaurs end up anyway... same place the entire human race will be within 150 years if we keep thinking like this.

You choose: the death of the letter or the death of the human race.

Death of the letter, reported prematurely

Anna's picture

You say that some companies won't do electronic payment because of the cost. Which I find interesting, because here in the United Kingdom, it's the other way around. If you want to receive paper statements and pay with bits of paper in an envelope you pay more for the privilege. According to the businesses that do this it is because of the extra costs involved in handling paper.

The sheer energy cost alone means its death

zaine_ridling's picture

Postal costs to consumers rise every year here in the US, and why not? They're still driving jeeps around every road in the country six days a week. It's insane. However, my mortgage company charges me $17.50 to make an online payment; my utility companies charge as much as $10 per online transaction. Or I could drop a 42cent? stamp for it. The choice is made by the cost.

For check-only bills, try your bank's online bill-pay

Duncan's picture

My bank's online bill-pay system handles both electronic payment, and cutting checks to the payee in question. The latter naturally has a longer lead time, four days as opposed to one, but as long as you get the paper bill on time and login to the bank and pay it a week in advance of the deadline, the bank takes care of the mailing for you, and even pays any late fees if the post office screws up.

While most of my bills are ebilled (thru the bank's online bill-pay as well) and paid electronically, my landlord doesn't have a big enough business to justify ebilling yet, so I still get the paper bill, but I use the bank's online bill-pay services to pay it every month.

I always end up paying state taxes too, as I don't have them withhold enough over the year. I file electronically, but while federal does direct debit, the state doesn't, and I end up sending a check to them. But from last year, I started doing that thru the bank's bill-pay as well.

So the last time I actually used a stamp (I still turn in return postage paid things once in awhile, tho), was I think three years ago, paying my state tax.

BTW, the bank's online bill-pay service is free, as is the checking (well, more accurately these days, debit card and online bill-pay) account. =8^)

More enlightened obviously

David Lane's picture

Our friends in Europe are clearly more enlightened on several issues, this being only one of them. As a case in point, my company only just stopped sending out paper "vouchers" telling you that your paycheque had been deposited.

Go figure...

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack