Enjoy Your Local Post Office… NOW!

Saturday, 6 Apr 2013, 9:02:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

I think Americans are unfairly and even wrongly apathetic

about whether or not the U.S. Postal Service survives into the 21st century.

Waiting in line at any of the three Santa Monica branches I frequent (5th and

Arizona, 1217 Wilshire, 2720 Neilson Way) one is tempted to point at trends and

conclude that the day of the mailed letter, the brown paper-wrapped box from

Grandma for your birthday, the card with $5 in it for your high school

graduation… all of that is vanishing Americana.

But should it be that way? Right off the bat I would argue

that citizens should resist having expensive overnight package delivery

becoming our only means of getting a parcel from here to there. If you think

the way you’re being pushed around by oil companies at the gas pump is

antithetical to democracy, wait until you pay $50 to send Silly Putty and an

Etch-A-Sketch to your nephew for his birthday. Unless that’s what it already

costs to absolutely positively get it there overnight.

Which brings us to our own responsibility for what’s

happening to the U.S. Postal Service: We’ve become too convenience-reliant.

Convenience-addicted might be more accurate. Once overnight service was

introduced to American business, there was no getting out from underneath it. A

client could simply insist that some physical thing be in their possession by

the next day. Not because there had in fact been a marked increase in the speed

at which business was transacted, but because Fed Ex and the others allowed you

to push people’s buttons that way. “What fun! I just told San Diego we HAD to

have that thing by tomorrow noon!”

This became the template later on when e-mail and e-mail

to phones were standardized. “Send it to

me now.” We felt elevated, taller, bigger because we could insist on having

things arrive at our end whether time was a factor or not. Rapid delivery of

materials became a measure of respect and business acumen, although you can get

blueprints delivered overnight for a project that is later held up for months

or even years. And there’s an undeniable element of vanity in all of this

high-speed delivery; one that was rarely present when, say, a letter from a

friend conveniently arrived in your mailbox in its own sweet time.

While it feels generational to argue the merits of a

written letter delivered by postal mail over the immediacy and attached

pictures of one’s cat provided by e-mail, I found myself a bit depressed

recently when I overheard a conversation about the “point” of mailing Christmas

cards. I know my own “point” for doing it, but those in the conversation were

right: To mail holiday cards is now a quaint custom. However, sitting and

listening to a musical holiday card in your e-mail can feel a lot like

answering the door at 8 am Saturday to chat with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In

both cases, the intentions are good, but…

So there we have a look at the current environment. Now:

“Five Reasons We Want to Save the U.S. Postal Service.”

One: Like General Motors after their

big fat bailout I believe the USPS is trying. I’m a fan of their “If it fits,

it ships” boxes that actually work for much of my personal shipping. This one

service product alone, to me, indicates that the USPS still has something to

give. 

Two: You honestly can’t drive

everything to and from the Internet. The holiday catalogs our household

received this past season tell me that there’s still a need to prompt commerce

with hard-copy mailings; that you can’t just set up a site and expect that shoppers

will find you and respond. Yes, there is a serious uptick in online sales. But

what is it that is first pushing customers to those sites? Television, the box

with sound that sits in our living rooms, is also something of a tech throwback

now. But we appear to need it to tell us about things that we then pursue

online.

Which gets us to Three: Sorting and

Division equals Freedom. If every single interaction of business and

communication becomes Internet/Smartphone driven… can you hope that those

involved will give you unbiased access? For all their old-school slowness and

bother, paper newspapers and postal mail still operate as soldiers defending

our right to know. There’s a function of sorting and dividing done by old

school media that you could ask your computer/phone to do for you. But that

will include whatever prioritization of information and advertising the

corporate parent of your information delivery system wishes to impose. I’m

saying, a simple mailed letter asking you to fight the Keystone pipeline might

not ever make it to your e-mail box if one day next week three merged super

corporations own everything. 

Four: Without the USPS delivery of

parcels, flats, and letters we’re at the pricing mercy of corporations. If you

enjoy how they’re treating you now, fine.

Five: People. People need the jobs,

and people need to get out of their homes and be in social situations that are

defined by civility and common courtesy. We’re starting to think we can

literally throw credit cards at others and be on our way, because we’re all

priority customers. I’m arguing that we should have the shared experience of

standing in a line every once and a while with our neighbors and calmly wait

our turn. And if I’m right about this, then the Post Office is our nation’s

premiere provider of this needed service.

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