The United States Postal Service announced plans today to end Saturday mail delivery later this year, as part of its spirit quest to become something other than a $16 billion sinkhole. Good! But it's not enough. In an age where we've already started to leave email behind, five days of bulk catalog and sweepstakes deliveries is pure, unmitigated excess.
Let's go further.
It's important to remember two things about physical mail. First: that it still exists at all is a testament more to power of bulk advertising—84.7 billion pieces delivered by the USPS in 2011, totaling $17.8 billion in revenue—than our desire to send Christmas cards. And second, that it derives the majority of its value from sentiment. Handwritten letters are a delight, sure. But they're rarely urgent. If they were, they'd be a phone call.
We live in a world of instant communication and endless options. We email, we tweet, we DM, we Facebook message, we chat, we text. Physical mail is a thoughtful indulgence. It's for birthday cards and thank you notes and birth announcements and wedding invitations. It'll keep. Outside of poor planning, there's rarely a rush to send or receive it.
Meanwhile, in its outmoded quest to stuff Restoration Hardware's spring collection into your mailbox, the USPS is drowning. Last year alone it lost $15.9 billion. The year before that, it had lost $5 billion. It's essentially insolvent. Losing Saturday delivery will save $2 billion a year; that's a start, but if we want a viable post office at all, we're going to have to do more. We're going to cut as deeply as we can. So how about this:
Let's cut mail delivery to Monday-Wednesday-Friday.
And then, once we get used to that, let's cut it again.
There are exceptions, sure; if you live paycheck to paycheck, waiting an extra day or two for your income can hurt. But as long as mail delivery remains consistent, how frequent it is matters far less. And it's important to note also that package deliveries won't be affected by the current USPS change. Nor should they be; a box can contain far more time-sensitive material than an envelope, and its contents can't be easily replaced or replicated online. Let's keep packages.
In an ideal world, mail delivered every day of the week would be totally feasible. In fact, why stop there? If mail once a day is good, mail twice a day would be even better. Or three times a day. Or, wait a minute, while we're dreaming, what about correspondence delivered to you personally 24 hours a day, without limit or interruption, at no expense to you or the sender?
Oh, wait. We have that.