We still need mail as well as e-mail

We still need mail as well as e-mail

Summary: The US Postal Service is getting ready to stop Saturday delivery of first-class mail on August 1st. Even with e-mail, instant messaging, groupware, and social networking, we still need the mail.


Mea culpa. I use e-mail for 90 percent of my communications, instant messaging (IM) for 9.0 percent, and voice for 0.9 percent. That only leaves 0.1 percent for old-fashioned paper mail. Still, I am, and I don't think anyone else is, really ready for the US Postal Service (USPS) to halt Saturday delivery of first-class mail on August 1st..

Even in the 21st century with e-mail. IM, and socail networks, we still need physical mail.

The financial reasoning for this move is that by shrinking delivery from six days a week to five for first-class mail, this move would save the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service $2 billion a year. Packages, priority, and express mail would still get Saturday delivery. This money-saving approach is, of course, dead wrong.

Here is a perfect example of the bean-counting mentality that has been plaguing government and business in the United States for years. The flawed logic behind it is that if you lower costs and cut services your finances will actually get better. What utter nonsense! Yes, the next quarter, or even the next year, will look better on the books, but faced with diminished services customers will always leave.

I've seen this happen to countless companies, when management is trying to hit their next quarter's numbers, they cut into the muscle and bone of their businesses. One reason why Michael Dell has taken Dell private is that he knows darn well, in the declining PC market with its razor-thin margins, there's no way he can make Dell's cash flow show the kind of growth that stock mavens, who can see no farther than  the next quarter's numbers, demand.

In particular, I've watched my own profession, journalism, implode as newspaper, magazine, and online publishers go through round after round of firings and reduction of pages and coverage -- and then be shocked -- shocked I tell you — when their readers desert them. Their response? Double down on quality? Heck, no they just make more cuts until there's nothing left but broken bones of once thriving businesses. Repeat after me: "Cutting services never grows revenues."

But, in this day of the Internet, isn't the post office an anachronism? No, it's not. Sure, most of what we get from the post office is junk mail, but that small fraction of "real" mail we get is invaluable. 

For instance, it's not that I like getting bills, but I do like paying them so that my lights stay on. True, most companies will now send you electronic bills, but in my experience e-bills are a bit less reliable about showing up than their paper counterparts.

On the flip side, most of my pay still arrives by good, old snail mail. Some, but far from all of my "customers" pay me by electronic fund transfers (EFT)s. A few even -- drat them! -- pay me by PayPal, which is the next worse thing to getting paid in postage stamps as far as I'm concerned.

If you're interested in your privacy, it's still a federal crime to tamper with the U.S. mail. It's almost trivial, however, for the government to look into your e-mail.

Of course, the government could be the least of your mail worries. Hardly a day goes by without another e-mail security breech or failure. For example, Yahoo mail accounts were broken into willy-nilly earlier this year.

Even presuming e-mail and the like can give us everything we need, it's not available for everyone. Like most of you, I'm someone who lives on the Internet. I've been on it since the 80s and today I have a 100Mbps Internet connection to my house. We're not everyone. Many people, especially those who live in the country, don't have broadband access at all. Rural Internet connectivity in the US can be summed up in a single phrase: "It stinks." For these folks, physical mail is still a necessity.

Finally, I know it's old-fashioned of me, but I still like getting print magazines as well. Last, but far from least, Netflix DVDs and the like are sent by first-class mail! Nooo!!!

What's that? I'll still get them on Monday through Friday? Really? You think so? I don't. As I've said above, I've gone through this before in my own business. It will start with Saturday delivery and then it will move on to other delivery services being cut.

You also need to look at the bigger picture. Everyone who depends on timely mail delivery -- such as magazine publishers and Netflix -- is going to be less inclined to use the mail. It would be great if e-magazines and Internet video were ready to replace their analog, physical counterparts, but they're not. Some, such as Internet TV, may never be ready since the content owners don't want to rent you their most valuable content over the Internet .

The bottom line is that cutting postal services will, in the end, not save any money. It will eventually increase the flow of red-ink while making the service itself poorer in quality. It would be great if universal Internet access could replace these services, but we're still not there yet. We may never be.

Related Stories:

Topics: Networking, Broadband, Collaboration, Government US, Privacy

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Yes

    "Even in the 21st century with e-mail. IM, and socail networks, we still need physical mail."

    Yes we do.
    • We need Mr. Smith to revisit Washington

      Steven's scrap should be with the Congress, which has been entirely unproductive and bumbling when it comes to the USPS (except when it comes time to rename post offices) and other issues as well.
  • Yes

    And we need the government to get *out* of the first class mail business so that competent businesses can take it over and give us decent service. The government should never have granted itself a monopoly on first-class mail delivery. Time for the USPS to fold up.
    • Mail is a vital public utility

      The problem is, a mail service run by loonietarians would quickly discover that it doesn't pay to deliver mail to most of rural America, and would stop doing it. Government serves the people (when it's not run by loonietarians) so it provides selected services at a loss.

      Here's an example: try to get broadband Internet along, say, rural Rt. 2 outside of Morris, MN. You can't. It's not available.

      Not every service should be run to profit a few richies. Imagine how bad things would be if we turned health care over to private companies!
      • Shouldn't you be on a msnbc site?

        Private healthcare is bad?, yeah, that Mayo Clinic really does suck, the ghetto cities hospitals are so much better...........

        Make the post office right to work(after filing bankruptcy to purge the greedy union deals), cut delivery days to 3 times a week for homes, close any post office in towns under 2000 population.
      • Sure it pays. You just charge more for a rural mail delivery

        It really isn't that hard a concept to grasp. The only people who choke on it are people who think that I should subsidize the cost of where they choose to live.
        • Im glad somebody understands basic economics

          Despite all of SJVN's ramblings, the USPO is a huge money loser.
          • FALSE

            Up until a recent bill (one which forced the USPS to start saving up for the retirement of people they haven't even hired yet), the Post Office made money.

            Don't know who told you otherwise.
            Michael Alan Goff
        • Choose to live?


          You think people always choose where they live?
          Michael Alan Goff
        • Works both ways, baggins_z

          Why should those of us in rural areas subsidize feeding
          those that choose to live in urban sprawl where they
          can't grow their own food? Why should those of us that
          live in oil producing areas subsidize fuel costs for those
          that choose to live in areas without oil?
          Amazing how selfish a lot of people are...want a little
          salt to go with your "crow"?
          • That's what's wrong with the US these days

            Nobody cares about the country, just themselves.
            Michael Alan Goff
  • Post Office was unreliable with bills

    I quit using the Post Office for bills five years ago. I had all my bills lost in the snail mail. Since I've switched to online billing, nothing has been lost.

    Other than Christmas and birthday cards or packages, everything else that ends up in my mailbox is junk mail that gets discarded unopened.
  • USPS for the new millenium

    I think the USPS needs to completely overhaul the way they do business. Consider something like this:
    Every person in the US gets their own USPS email address. Junk mailers would pay one fee to deliver via email and another via snail mail. When I mail a letter to Aunt Sally in CA, I would drop my letter in the mail box. The next stop would be a post office where the letter would be scanned and transmitted digitally. It would be delivered directly to Aunt Sally's USPS email address, or printed by the CA office and delivered in the "normal" fashion. There would be a different pay structure for delivering my original letter. Those willing to pay could use the USPS largely as they do today. Others would have some combination of a partial or total digital delivery. I think it's a natural of the USPS to get into the email business.
  • Mail 5 days a week!!

    5 days a week will be fine by me and lot of other people. I don't get much of value in the mail that really has to be there on a Saturday or Sunday. Other than the TV Guide that I get on Tuesday, nothing financial comes through the mail to me. UPS and FedEx usually only come 5 days a week. The USPS will be delivering packages 6 days a week, and that should work out OK. I used to us the mail service extensively in the past, but don't use it very much anymore, and except for my TV Guide, would not miss it much at all. 95% of my mail is junk mail or some sort, so it usually goes right into the recycle bin.
  • Yes to Saturday Mail

    Okay so they wish to stop personal delivery on sat least one day a week.
    Why Saturday?
    This is the day that most people have free from work to do their personal business.
    Let's stop delivering on a weekday instead.
    Like maybe Wednesday.
    They could continue business delivers on that day but not the home delivery.
    Do home deliveries still on the weekend and no businesses.
    As someone else has stated, you can't just close all of the offices in communities under 2000 pop. you can make other improvements though.
    Just like your home, how energy efficient are most of those offices anyway?
    Do the energy improvements and I'm betting in a year you'll see some huge cost savings!
    I understand about payback on investments for improvements but the savings over time is real if you're willing to make the initial investment.
    Scanned letters by the postal service is just wrong in too many ways!
  • You can tell it's a government

    operation when their response to reduced business is to RAISE prices and CUT service.
    • Kind of what corporations do...

      ...to provide the illusion of greater profitability.
      John L. Ries
      • But if they are truly unprofitable they will go out of business.

        Unless some politician wants to buy some votes by bailing out the unprofitable corporation.

        Govt is the true master of crooked accounting, but they can never go out of business!
        • Takes quite a while for some businesses to fail

          Or they don't fail but just stagnate.
          John L. Ries
          • still faster than getting rid of a govt program

            Those never go away.