As the news cycle struggles to emerge from its Independence Day slumber, there's one news story out there that appears to be grabbing people's attention: the U.S. Postal Service is considering raising rates by a few cents. While most people probably shake their head in disgust when reading that headline, they should be happy. The less attractive it is to send snail mail, the sooner people will be weaned off an inferior method of communication.
Let's think about the post office's specialties. Yes, they send packages. But so does FedEx, UPS, and other delivery services. We don't need the post office for that. Their niche is mail -- mostly letters, bills, advertisements, and magazines. Why prolong the inevitable outcome of all of this going digital?
The evolution of magazines has already been written about ad nauseam, so there's little need to reiterate what everybody already knows. Paper magazines are quickly becoming obsolete. The question is really just one of timing. Will they be gone in three years? Five years? 20 years? The day is coming.
That doesn't mean the magazine industry is dead -- just that the magazines that give you paper cuts and annoyingly accumulate on your coffee table are dying a speedy death. They're already being reincarnated on e-reading devices like the iPad and Kindle. They're also enjoyed online, though the media industry is still struggling to figure out how to prices things to make a profit there. Higher postage will speed up the transition.
This stuff is also generally known as junk mail. It's like e-mail spam, but it also kills trees. As postage gets more expensive, these ads will increasingly disappear. Some may lament fewer coupons by snail mail, but they'll just go digital as well. It's hard to imagine junk mail will be missed by many people.
Many companies have already begun urging customers to do their bills online. You can often receive e-mail notification of new monthly e-statements available for banking, credit cards, phone service, cable, etc. Often, you can even pay by credit card or checking account electronically. Not only is this more convenient, but it also prevents wasting paper.
Yes, it may be nice to get birthday cards or good, old-fashioned letters in the mail. They serve as throwbacks to a different time. Imagine when people had to wait days for correspondence! While such anachronisms may be a pleasant reminder of those days, the ability to mail letters is no longer vital. Just about everyone in the U.S. can get a free e-mail address and certain public facilities like libraries offer free Internet access.
The post office may never vanish entirely. But using postal services for mail will likely continue to become more expensive in the years to come -- and that's okay. As the world goes digital, we should expect this service to come at a high price, because it is much more expensive than electronic communication. If you want to send a letter for fun or receive a paper bill, then you'll still be able to do so. But that nostalgia will cost you.