The Postman Winked and Chirped

No more next-day first class mail delivery? This is just the latest sign of an American institution that is quickly outliving its usefulness.

People within and outside the U.S. Postal Service saw the changes coming back in the mid-1990s. In 1995, then Postmaster General Marvin Runyon foresaw the future but didn’t get it quite right. He penned a column for Insight Magazine entitled “Postal Future Is in the E-mail” (Sept. 25). Trying to justify the post office’s existence in the year 2010, he simply confirmed how out of touch government bureaucrats can be. His scenario had a future business person “opening his computer” which “winked and chirped,” showing him “how to get his message into the postal system.” It would be delivered quickly to the post office near the recipient, then printed out and delivered by a postman the next day. The next day, rather than the next minute. Mr. Runyon apparently didn’t understand that the computer was invented in part to get our messages out of the slow postal system and onto the fast Internet, all the way from sender to recipient.

After eight paragraphs trying to convince us that his government agency had a future, he inadvertently stated the obvious. The greatest innovation by the year 2010 in his view: “Post office lines will be a thing of the past.” While there are still long lines in 2011, especially during the holiday season, he eventually will be proven right since you can’t have lines forming in front of counters in an agency that has been replaced by competitive, Internet-based alternatives.

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