Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hybrid Mail

To my son Tommy,

Your old man has tons of ideas rattling around in his head.  Some weird, some wild, some ingenious, some well thought out, and some half baked.  If only I could get the drive to pursue, implement, or attempt them.  I don't even mind if someone else ran with my ideas because at least they wouldn't set on a shelf in my mind collecting dust.  One of these ideas involves the U.S. Postal Service.  I may have mentioned this one before but it is still stuck there rattling and I have a need to get it out.

A while back I was listening to NPR and there were discussing the changes they might have to make to stop losing so much money year in and year.  Closing some offices and stopping post on Saturdays were a couple of the ideas batted around.  They were also discussing the eventual demise of this federal service and the influence of email and other such systems that contributed to this downward trend.  I personally think it is a bad idea if the USPS goes, so I sat there brainstorming.

The benefits of what is now called snail mail, as I see it, are that you have a physical hard copy.  Digital is great but there is nothing like receiving a real letter in the mail.  Accepting a letter usually doesn't pose much of a threat.  From a letter, you don't risk a computer virus that can steal your bank info or identity.  Though a man named Ted Kaczynski did try to use the mail as a weapon, and then there were some jerks who started sending anthrax through the mail, for the most part a letter is harmless.  Also everyone knows how to use a letter.  Open and read is about the easiest form of instruction and doesn't require teaching countless older people how to turn on a computer and surf the internet and such.

The downfall for letters seem to be rooted in the expense.  The main expense is shipping and delivering all this mail all over the world by plain, train or automobile.  Sure there are other downfalls like most letters require paper products and these have to be harvested from trees and then usually end up adding to our ever growing landfill problem, but the gas and the cost and the slowness of picking a letter up in Baltimore and delivering it to San Francisco seems to me to be the worst culprit.

So what if you took the speed of email and combined it with the good things of snail mail.  A compromise creating a hybrid mail system.  Here is how I picture it.

You log on to your USPS website account.  You write in address place send this to "Mr. Big Bird at 123 Sesame Street, New York, New York 10123" you type out your letter (or nowadays with tablets and apps and such, write out your letter in your own handwriting)  You agree to the nickel charge and hit send.  It marks that it came from you here in Baltimore.

Now over in the post office for this address somewhere in fictional New York, the letter prints out on a printer that folds and seals the letter with the address on the outside.  The post man picks it up and delivers it in no time.  No truck or gas from Baltimore to New York.  You miss all that expense and extra polution.  No extra envelope so less paper.  Lots of benefits.

That is just the bare minimum idea to start brainstorming.  There could be additions (like printers in the post office truck to make it even quicker) price changes (color added for another nickel, picture quality added for a dime) and all types of little extras added.  Imagine if the post office would team up with Hallmark or another greeting card company so you can pick out a Christmas card that you want to send to your grandmother and instead of printing your message on plain paper it prints it on some actual Christmas card for delivery.  The possibilities are endless or at least that is how I see it in my mind.

Of course, only you and maybe a few others will see this idea and I doubt it will get anywhere.  I am in no position to pitch it to anyone of consequence that could run with the idea.  And I am not sure that people aren't actually rooting for the mail to go the way of the dodo.  It may come to pass that when you finally read this you will have to find some old dusty history book to look up what the United States Postal Service was and what exactly is snail mail, much like your old man heard stories about the pony express.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

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