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We still need mail as well as e-mail

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.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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