U.S. Post Admits: Deader Than the Dodo

Written by Daniel Alexandre Portoraro on Wednesday September 7, 2011

Fredric V. Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers strong>says< “we have to do everything we can to preserve it and adapt.” “It” being the United States Postal Service which is reported as potentially defaulting on a $5.5 billion payment due this month. But Rolando, whether or not he realizes it, is using the same type of terminology that an archaeologist would upon discovering the dusty remains of a dinosaur skeleton.

The Postal Service is dead. If it isn’t, then it is surely in a hospice.

It seems that Mr. Rolando has come too late to the twenty-first century in saying the mail needs to “adapt.” It says a good deal about the organization of the United States’s communication system that an age-old institution possesses the same amount of foresight as a record store.

When you think about it, there is no logical reason why Apple should have pioneered the online Music Store, not HMV, that Google released widespread internet maps, not Michelin, that Amazon started selling books online, not Borders.

One would hope that an institution over two-hundred years old wouldn’t fall into such a trap, but it has. In an increasingly online world, Mr. Thomas Neale’s baby, is proving to be as relevant as newspaper subscriptions; worthwhile only to those unable to “adapt” to the shift to online, paperless content.

There was a time when the Postal Service could have saved itself, if not when United Parcel Service launched in 1907, then maybe in the early seventies when FedEx promised and provided the speediest package delivery in the land. But the Service missed the mark, having to play catch-up, and thus, losing market share when it didn’t have to.

Of course, it is one thing to criticize and reprimand an institution, and another to suggest how it could improve itself. Unfortunately, the Postal Service’s current options are limited. The agency is attempting to gain “the right to deliver wine and liquor, [allow] commercial advertisements on [trucks] and in post offices, doing more “last mile” deliveries for FedEx and UPS and offering special hand-delivery services for correspondences and transactions for which e-mail is not considered secure enough,” according to the New York Times.

To anyone with common sense, these options are “last-minute” and  desperate. More than likely they will offer little to counteract years upon years of backwards and wishful thinking that birthday cards from grandma will be enough to sustain a $67 billion-revenue-generating company.

However, the agency’s last attempt, offering hand-delivery services for correspondences deemed too important for unsecure e-mailing, is an interesting one. Surely, there is a market for that…now. Even when it faces its darkest hour, the US Postal Service still has yet to show it has learnt its lessen.

While there are currently correspondences that in fact are too sensitive for e-mail, this is surely something that will be rectified in the future. But in all likelihood, not by the Postal Service. But wouldn’t it make more sense to jump ahead of the curve (unless of course, someone else has), and have the Postal Service deliver the strongest, most reliable e-mail service in the United States?

A service that would promote and guarantee the same amount of security that a “hand delivery” would? There is little reason for this not to happen, beside lack of imagination and the same type of tunnel-vision that has led the US Postal Service to the position that it is in now.

In light of this ancient institution’s fall from grace, those in the Great White North cannot help but remember the Canadian Post strike of this past summer. For several weeks, no one received any mail: no letters from camp, no care packages from mom and pop, but perhaps most infuriating of all (and certainly one of the most important), no paychecks from work.

While the CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers) didn’t realize the hypocrisy in their strike (“we want to get more money, but will prevent you from getting yours”) many undoctrinated Canadian did. I say “undoctrinated” because the CUPW acts less as an institution trying to guarantee the well-being of its members, and more as a despicable greedy fat man at a party, grasping for every single morsel of free food he can find.

This may sound like an exaggeration on my part, but when an organization that refers to its members as “Brother X” and “Sister Y” complains because there’s been a reduction in boot allowance for the month of June (and no, our famed, ferocious winters do not begin until November), it is clear that the CUPW, and potentially the Canadian Post at large is an institution not only unwilling to cope with the twenty-first century, but complain when reasonable cutbacks are being made in light of sensible change.

The mail is dying. It’s been said before, but that was mere prophecy. The post is at the beginning of its undeniable end, and this can be seen in the United States Postal Service scrambling for solutions and a life preserver from Congress, and in the Canadian Post’s vicious greed.

It’s almost as if the latter is trying to get as much money as it can now, for it knows one day, the paychecks will stop coming in the mail. But not because of a strenuous strike, but because their position, and any protest thereafter, will cease to exist. These two unique situations are proof of the fall of an industry at large: lack of organization, foresight, and imaginative progress, and desperate, take-whatever-you-can greed.

The latter is what one would expect in a scene from an apocalyptic movie: the world is about to end, grab whatever you can from the grocery store shelves and punch everyone in your way so you can get your way. Ignorance on one hand, violence on the other. With people like this running the postal industry, maybe it is in best if we see it go the way of the dinosaur and “preserve” it in a museum so future business models can learn from its mistakes.