A look at the de­cline of the old-time let­ter car­rier

The Review - - OPINION - Jim Smart Of All Things Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­phia.com.

The num­ber-grinders at the U.S. Bu­reau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics are pre­dict­ing that by 2026, the num­ber of let­ter car­ri­ers and mail clerks in the Postal Ser­vice will fall 28 per­cent and mail sorters will de­crease 50 per­cent.

Au­to­mated sort­ing sys­tems and big ship­pers do­ing their own de­liv­er­ies are nib­bling away at the ser­vices of the U.S. Mail. Last year, the Postal Ser­vice de­liv­ered 149 bil­lion pieces of mail, com­pared to 212 bil­lion 10 years ago.

Such big bucks com­pa­nies as Google, Ama­zon, Wal­mart, Tar­get and Costco are find­ing ways to make their own de­liv­er­ies. A re­port a few months ago said that Google had or­dered 20,000 Mercedes vans to be used by con­tracted de­liv­ery peo­ple.

Ama­zon has of­fered some mar­kets free same-day de­liv­ery ser­vice. Big ship­pers are de­scribed as test­ing de­liv­ery by drone. Some su­per­mar­kets now ac­cept or­ders by email and truck the gro­ceries to the cus­tomer.

Dur­ing all this, the Postal Ser­vice, in Oc­to­ber 2016, an­nounced a five-year plan with four ob­jec­tives: “1. De­liver a world class cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence. 2. Equip, em­power and en­gage em­ploy­ees. 3. Innovate faster to de­liver value. 4. In­vest in our fu­ture plat­forms.”

How’s that for ivory tower gob­ble-de-gook?

I re­mem­ber when I was a lit­tle runny-nose row house kid, in the early Roo­sevelt ad­min­is­tra­tion, af­ter break­fast some days, my grand­mother would write a penny postal card to her best friend, who lived six blocks away.

She would tell me to run it down to the cor­ner mail­box so her friend would get it in the morn­ing mail. Her friend’s re­ply would be de­liv­ered in the af­ter­noon mail.

In the 1970s, I lived for a while six blocks from City Hall. The mail­man de­liv­ered to my house twice a day.

To­day, while things that used to be sent from one place to an­other on pa­per or in boxes now move by email or Twit­ter or Face­book or such in­no­va­tions, we still get mail de­liv­ered once a day.

Six days a week ex­cept hol­i­days, there are still guys lug­ging heavy bags through heat and cold and rain and snow while the ex­perts in Wash­ing­ton pon­der how to ar­range a world class cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

One cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence the Postal Ser­vice seems to have squeezed into that five-year plan is all kinds of fancy stamps.

The Postal Ser­vice pub­lishes a quar­terly color glossy 8-by-11-inch 46-page cat­a­log called “USA Philatelic,” which of­fers spe­cial postage stamps, of many sizes and de­nom­i­na­tions and sub­jects. There have been 26 fancy stamps so far this year.

The first postage stamps were is­sued in 1847, and for some quirky emo­tion in hu­man be­ings, peo­ple have been col­lect­ing them ever since. They were made manda­tory for mail­ing in 1855. Some peo­ple com­plained.

Other peo­ple started stick­ing them in al­bums. Many still do. The United States has is­sued more than 5,000 dif­fer­ent de­signs so far. So-called com­mem­o­ra­tive stamps are gen­er­ally is­sued in print­ings of 25 mil­lion or more, de­pend­ing on the sub­ject. Maybe the Postal Ser­vice should quit de­liv­er­ing mail and just sell stamps to col­lec­tors.

But will pa­per mail die away? Will we no longer have the plea­sure of get­ting pa­per Christ­mas cards, of­ten from long or dis­tant friends? Birth­day cards have a warmer feel­ing than an email. Post­cards from folks va­ca­tion­ing in dis­tant places are wel­come sur­prises.

And no ro­bot or drone or elec­tronic com­puter mes­sage can quite re­place that friendly guy who leaves your mail every day and, if he sees you, hollers, “Have a good one!”

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