May 10, 1998

Letters, We Get Letters

Time to open up the @LA.COM electronic mailbag, for some thoughts on a column that generated some heat!

Late last year, I wrote a piece called Goodbye, U.S. Postal Service. Basically, I said the Post Office needs to radically change the way it does business, if it wants to succeed in the information age. (Go on, check it out for yourself if you haven't read it already.)

Then, the electronic response came flooding in. Letís start with this note from Don and Jane Reinholt. Iím guessing Don penned this comment. Itís reproduced here verbatim.

"I cannnot believe your message on the net..I am a postal employee and have been for 25 yrs..You say your delivery is later and you cannot get what you desire from u.s.p.s. service.. Well let me tell you that the regular person likes what we deliver. If a letter is sent to someone at a street address and there no # we get it there. If that letter says Grandma or Uncle we get it there Can you say that for your other users? I am proud to be an employee of the usps and I feel that the public will have a rude awakening if the system ever changes.. You have no idea what we do..You only have the right to complain. I would truly like to have your input on this subject."

I also received this supportive note:

As a proud employee of the U.S. Postal service, I wish to inform you that the agency is ranked #1 by the American.people. This ranking is against all other federal agencies. We wish only to serve the American people to the best of our ability. If this does not please you, I suggest you move to a country that does not use hard copy mail. Maybe you should move to a third world country where its citizens use smoke signals or homing pigeons to communicate with each other. The Postal Services uses nothing but high tech, state of the art eqiuipment to move the mail. including computers and the old reliable dinasaur; PEOPLE. Do you consider your self obsolete? If so maybe you should retire yourself within the net ten years or a matter of fact, do it know.

Roger T. Brown, Supervisor Customer Serrvices

United States Postal Service Lenox Hill Station, New York, NY

Well, hereís my response to Don and Jane. I think it says all I want to say on this issue.

Don and Jane --

Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me about my column regarding the future of the U.S. Postal Service. I mean in all sincerity that I do truly appreciate what postal workers do and have done for this country.

One of my favorite comedians once did a joke about Americans complaining about the price of a stamp going up. This joke was told in 1988, and it went something like, "In South Africa today, people were beaten and killed while struggling for freedom, in the Soviet Union, thousands are starving following a winter famine, and in the United States, the price of a stamp is going up to a quarter!" You can see the point he was making -- if that's our biggest problem, we don't have a problem. I think it's truly amazing that for 32 cents, a guy will come to my house, pick up my letter, and take it to any address in the United States. Anyway you look at it, 32 cents is a bargain.

But if you'll go back and take a look at what I wrote, I don't think it's an attack on the postal service, so much as a warning look at what the future holds. Yes, the Postal Service is a great, cheap, reliable system, and has served America well for the last 200 years. But in the information age, the very need to physically mail things on pieces of paper to other people is going to be virtually eliminated. As I pointed out with examples from my own life, many of the things I used to use the mail for, I use the computer for -- much like you and I are having this discussion "electronically." I'm guessing a written or printed version of our correspondence doesn't exist -- nor does it have to. That means USPS is going to have to be ready to change the way they do business if they wish to survive and thrive in to the 21st century. Postmaster General Runyon has already started looking at this situation -- I remember seeing a story on the news about a potential "electronic stamp" to verify authenticity of e-mail messages. This is the kind of thing USPS needs to explore -- and in a hurry!

I went back and re-read my column, and I honestly don't think there was any slur or slam toward the Post Office intended. I was just trying to point out that while regular mail service is still a necessity today, the internet could shift the whole "postal paradigm" in the new millennium.

You're right when you say I have no idea what you do. I can only imagine the challenges that are solved everyday by the thousands of competent and reliable postal employees. (I refuse to believe in those stupid postal stereotypes -- almost all of my experiences with USPS have been very, very positive.) And if no one on your route or in your station will say it -- I will say it right now: Thank you for delivering 25 years of smiles to thousands and thousands of people. I hope the USPS does survive, and thrive, well in to the next century.


Colin Campbell

Then, thereís these recent quotes from Postmaster General Marvin Runyon, excerpted from a Reuters news article:

"By the year 2020, there will be so many ways to communicate, advertise and ship merchandise, the (Postal Service) monopoly (on First Class mail) will simply be irrelevant," (Runyon) told the Press Club. But as people order ever more by fax, phone and over the Internet, someone will have to deliver it. "Until there is a way to beam items from Point A to Point B like they do in Star Trek, the nation will continue to need someone to do the legwork," he said. "More and more we will be the one doing the job. Soon I foresee the Postal Service becoming the shipper of choice to America's homes."

Marvin and I think I alike, I suppose.

Oh, and Post Office wants to raise the cost of a stamp to $.33. Guess what? Itís still a bargain.

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Last updated May 24, 1998