The Death of the Letter?

by David Lane

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…

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