Last week the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced it is considering cutting Saturday delivery . It's about time. In fact, the mail doesn't need to stop being delivered on Saturday, it needs to stop being delivered completely .
In a recent
, entrepreneur Marc
suggested that traditional media outlets "burn the boats," meaning they should stop publishing print versions of their publications. We need to do the same thing when it comes to sending mail.
The Problems with Mail
Mail kills 5.2 million trees every year.
Mail is wasteful and inefficient. News outlets that have been covering the story about the potential of eliminating Saturday delivery have been missing the point. This issue isn 't about the impact no mail delivery on Saturday would have. Instead, it is about asking the question: Is mail a viable communication method anymore? We are a society that has long thrived on innovation. We have been willing to stop using methods of communication once they have become antiquated; consider the elimination of telegraphs.
Last year, Mike Volpe wrote an article about the waste and environmental damage caused by direct mail advertising . Today, let's think bigger.
While the United States Postal Service is self-funded, it operated at a loss of nearly 2 billion dollars last year. The 2009 operating budget for the United States Postal Service was 79.2 billion dollars. Think about the impact that nearly 80 billion dollars could have if it were directed at improving digital communications infrastructure like rural broadband Internet access or improved technology in pubic schools. As Americans, we have allowed printed mail to hold us back from more efficient and innovative communications opportunities.
In the last quarter of 2009 (October 1, 2009 - December 31, 2009), the USPS delivered 21,218,826 pieces of first class mail. First class mail consisted of less than half of all mail delivered during this time. If we think conservatively and say every first class piece was only one piece of paper and one envelope, then as Americans we wasted more than 42.4 million sheets of paper in only 90 days . This paper usage does not even begin to account for the 260,000 vehicles the postal service has on the road and the fossil fuels they burn every day.
Building USPS 2.0
Delivering messages has never been easier, and the content in them has never been more important. As a society, we don't need to kill the United States Postal Service. Rather, we need to transform it into United States Postal Service 2.0. In an economy built on innovation and intellectual property, the countries with the best infrastructures to support their growth will achieve economic success and stability. What if your mailman, instead of delivering mail every day, was trained to support the digital messaging systems and pipelines of the U.S.?
Imagine a world where 656,000 employees of the USPS were focused on issues like network stability and protecting citizens from spam and illegal content. The United States Postal Service is the second-largest civilian employer in the United States. Committing resources on that scale to digital communication would transform our society.
By creating USPS 2.0, the United States government (aside from the obvious environmental savings) could build a digital communication network supported by a purpose-driven organization that would position the United States far ahead of other nations.
Getting Back to Storytelling
The foundation of great
and great storytelling. In the world of direct mail and junk mail, our culture has lost the real reason people actually used to send letters -- to tell stories. In shifting away from printed letters, some of the team members of the USPS could be trained to help businesses and individuals better tell their stories. Imagine that a few years from now, instead of going to the post office to mail a letter, you take your daughter there to
learn how to edit a video
she will be sending electronically to her grandparents.
Think about a world where blue post office boxes are turned into wireless access points and post office buildings become places of storytelling and real-time information sharing.
Direct and junk mail that nobody reads is wasteful. Betting on a dying form of communication is just as wasteful because it robs America of an opportunity to lead a world driven by digital communication. Let's stop sending pointless direct mail ads that don't work and fail to prove return on investment. Let's stop flooding mailboxes with bills and statements that most people already view online. Let's band together and say "no" to mail and "yes" to USPS 2.0!
Who is coming with us?
Photo by: Ed Siasoco
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Originally published Mar 10, 2010 11:30:00 AM, updated March 21 2013