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Skeletor

The Future of the Postal Service

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So quite a number of post offices are closing across the states. Many years into the future...can you see the post office closing down completely? Packages still need to be delivered but FedEx and UPS will be there.

Will today's iGeneration (who has never written or almost never writes letters) completely move to e-mail? Will e-mail and .pdf be the "pen and paper" of the iGeneration?

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Judging from the modern legal/business system, there will still be a need for a postal service, heavy objects aside, although I hope that even this niche doesn't become entirely privately holded.

OK, most advertising and spam can be perfectly served by email and perhaps it's better that way, as well as event notifications etc.

However legal and official documents still need to be in paper form and often need the presence of revenue stamps or equivalent forms of validation to be considered "real". How seriously would you take a bill or a legal document if it was delivered to you only in email form?

For quick interpersonal communication, email is superseded by texting and the such, while for more personal, emotional communication nothing beats pen and paper.

And iGeneration = fail (p)

I thought it was e-generation, not some gay wannabe mac user thing :-p

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Maes said:

How seriously would you take a bill or a legal document if it was delivered to you only in email form?


Well, who knows what e-communication will be like in ten years? Mail itself used to be very high-risk. We still have bars on mail vans (not sure about the little trucks). Mabye the e-mail companies will have a cooperation/verification system with the legal people so we know it's trusted. Anything could happen.

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There will also always be the need to ensure document delivery even to people/entities without access to email, and the need for delivery receipts for certain types of documents.

Regarding the current situation, there are cases where paper is required even for internal communication, let alone external one. Complete dependence on power or mechanical/electrical reliability of components and machinery is also not a good idea for many reasons.

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Not that I can tell that is happening over here, but I don't think those closings have as much to do with digital correspondence, which simply lowers the amount of paper messages delivered, which can be replaced with digital equivalents, as much as with private companies taking over the task of carrying packages.

After all, the digital world also makes the long distance delivery of goods (be it local or otherwise) more convenient than before, as orders are easy and quick to make. Granted, many sellers use private companies to deliver goods, but others can well benefit from the public postal system.

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Abyssalstudios1 said:

Mabye the e-mail companies will have a cooperation/verification system with the legal people so we know it's trusted.

Heh, so unlikely. :P Any "e-businesses", including e-mail services, are horribly "wild" in that anyone can fire up their own system and provide services to anyone else. You can't simply expect all of the countless e-mail providers world wide to cooperate with similarly countless trustworthy companies whose mails ought to be authenticated. Not to mention the possibly gray line between web hotels and people who buy space and a domain from them (who would be responsible for the e-mail verification, the web hotel or the guy who provides the e-mail through the web hotel under his own domain?).

Of course, alternatively we could get a brand new e-mail protocol which would include authentication using a "trusted" authentication service as a middle man between the e-mail provider and the to-be-trusted company. But I don't see people getting rid of the current e-mail protocols, at least not for a good long while. They work well enough, and if you want something more I guess there's always social networking...and Wave.


Mail is also important for magazines and newspapers. Sure you could read them online, but for a lot of people the print form is much more comfortable. And lets not forget bills. Those would get way too easily lost in your spam folder if they were delivered by e-mail. :P

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Jodwin said:

And lets not forget bills. Those would get way too easily lost in your spam folder if they were delivered by e-mail. :P

I was gonna say this, but an increasing number of utility companies are starting to offer online payment. And it's getting more popular.

Jodwin said:

Mail is also important for magazines and newspapers. Sure you could read them online, but for a lot of people the print form is much more comfortable.

This is true. Nonetheless, though I enjoy print myself, I can still see newer generations preferring online publications to actual print.

As for official/government documents and such, a solution I could see is having everyone have their own "government" email account, sort of like the mailbox in front of your house. Only certain people can send mail to this inbox, which is beefed with extra security.

The only problem would be to make sure people actually check these inboxes.

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Maes said:

Judging from the modern legal/business system, there will still be a need for a postal service, heavy objects aside, although I hope that even this niche doesn't become entirely privately holded.

I don't know what postal rates are like in America, but here in Australia it's been estimated that privatising our government-owned postal service could reduce the average postage stamp from 55c to 18c. Competition is a good thing.

Abyssalstudios1 said:

Mabye the e-mail companies will have a cooperation/verification system with the legal people so we know it's trusted.

You mean like PGP that's been out since 1991? That is an end user verification system, ISPs shouldn't be trusted or burdened with facilitating their users' content privacy.

The technology for secure delivery and verification of email and individuals has been around for years, it's the mindset, tradition and interoperability of users that stops them changing (not to mention the initial outlay of the equipment). If everyone in a legal-related profession jumped on a computer and learnt how to properly use cryptography and something like fingerprint scanners, there would be much fewer legal postal mail going around. Perhaps there are still draconian laws about signing certain papers in person too.

DuckReconMajor said:

I was gonna say this, but an increasing number of utility companies are starting to offer online payment. And it's getting more popular.

I can't remember the last time I got a postal bill or bank statement, everything comes to me by email or SMS, I can netbank and PayPal on my PC or mobile phone. A piece of paper which I either have to physically take somewhere to pay, or manually key in characters (like a customer ID for payment online) is a hindrance to me.

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The flaw with these assumptions is that they take access to email (and the ability and means to use it at every time) for granted, which still does not hold true for 100% of the population, even in so-called "Western countries". Hell, not even in Japan or Korea, where you'd think them AZNs would be total tekno-nuts by now.

"Digital analphabetism" is becoming a widespread and recognized phenomenon, and a similar transition would leave masses of the population abandoned on their own, similar to older ages where people who couldn't read or write either dwelled in poverty or had to hire "scribes" to even write a letter for them.

And, sadly I don't think that merely belonging to the new generation is enough to fix it. I know several people of my or of a younger age that can't follow on-screen instruction for shit, which is actually part of another problem called "functional analphabetism".

As I had once wrote in another thread, higher standards of living can generate expectations that appear highly unusual as soon as one leaves his country, his city, hell, even his neighborhood.

For example, it may be quite common for the average US citizen to own a credit card and have even his daily groceries (which he ordered online) delivered to his front porch, but in the EU usually only the very wealthy or the elderly even consider using such a service (and then, not online).

I know there are services (such as car renting) which are inaccessible without a credit card, but over here they are not exactly issued to anyone asking for one (unless they are issued with fraudulently "relaxed" requirements, and those almost never end up well), but before different economic realities, development indexes, consumer expectations and priorities, service providers, businesses and state-provided functions must adapt to survive.

A personal anecdotal example, quoted from another thread:

I had said:

Of course, I can understand that living with higher standards creates expectations that sound unrealistic as soon as you move just a notch lower e.g. some family friends from Germany visited me years ago (in 1997) and for some reason they were stuck for 10 minutes in my condo's lobby...when I went to find out why, turned out they were waiting for the elevator's door to open automatically (N.B.: In Greece, outside of luxury hotels and the such, only elevators installed in the last 3 years come with automatic doors and such jet-set luxuries) ;-)


What's my opinion? Electronic services (banking, state services etc.) are fine and a blessing for the people who are actually smart and privileged enough to use them, but an alternative must be provided at all times. Sure enough, that creates an unfair disadvantage between e.g. a job applicant that sees an announcement on the web and emails his CV and one that has to see it printed on the local paper and mail his own, but it's still better than total obscurity.

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Super Jamie said:
I don't know what postal rates are like in America, but here in Australia it's been estimated that privatising our government-owned postal service could reduce the average postage stamp from 55c to 18c. Competition is a good thing.

Heh, not that I mind how such services are provided on the other side of the globe, but that's typical "citation needed" fare. Not to mention that's just the supposed stamp cost, which is not the only reason to have a public postage system.

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I order a bunch of stuff over the internet, so the postal service BETTER be there to deliver it.

Also, I'm pretty sure they're doing this because of the economy. The government is making more cuts than anyone I think. They've had a hiring freeze around here for the last 6 months with a lot of layoffs. If they're just shutting down post offices now though, that's a big FAIL since the economy is actually starting to take a bit of an upswing.

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Maes said:
However legal and official documents still need to be in paper form and often need the presence of revenue stamps or equivalent forms of validation to be considered "real".

Working for a law office (that mostly deals with real estate) I can vouch for this. There's a handful of things that still have to be sent by mail to be considered official (e.g. power of sale documentation has to be sent to each owner and mortgage holder by Registered Mail, and I think Registered Mail is one of the options when serving papers).

Fax is unreliable so anything important usually gets sent both by fax and then mailed out later that day. (Them: "Where's that fax you said you'd send us?" Me: "I sent it, twice. Here's the transmission reports that say 'OK' on them." And I'd just like to say that the Mennonite Savings And Credit Union has a much nicer fax machine than the regional mortgage centre for Scotiabank.) E-mail is insecure (but probably not much less than voice calls) because no one knows how to use PGP...

Cheques usually get mailed, it's much easier than keeping direct deposit information on each client and business. Closing funds are often direct deposited (for out-of-town firms) or hand delivered / picked up (for local firms), though.

We do use couriers, but only when something is urgent -- they cost an order of magnitude more than stamps.

On the other hand, deeds and mortgages are now registered electronically. (This saves me time as my town straddles three counties and I used to have at least a half-hour drive each way to any of the three county seats when I registered things on paper.) We still need clients to sign a direction that basically says "we give you permission to electronically sign and register these documents on our behalf", though.

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Maes said:

Electronic services (banking, state services etc.) are fine and a blessing for the people who are actually smart and privileged enough to use them, but an alternative must be provided at all times. Sure enough, that creates an unfair disadvantage between e.g. a job applicant that sees an announcement on the web and emails his CV and one that has to see it printed on the local paper and mail his own, but it's still better than total obscurity.

This could start a whole "survival of the fittest" argument, and raises questions about society that nobody seems to have good answer for. I'm sure glad I'm on the "fit" side in regards to things like this.

CODOR said:

On the other hand, deeds and mortgages are now registered electronically.

I find it amusing to see how certain systems modernise while some still stay in the paper era. Where I live you have to pay a traffic ticket in person with money or card, but visit the next state and you get issued a fine you can pay online instantly.

Perhaps the best is this new public transport swipe card system they have here, you load up a balance then swipe on and off stations to save buying a paper ticket. To register your card, you fill in an automated form online, then call up a person two days later to get a password for it.

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Super Jamie said:

I don't know what postal rates are like in America, but here in Australia it's been estimated that privatising our government-owned postal service could reduce the average postage stamp from 55c to 18c. Competition is a good thing.

Are we talking about an "average postage stamp" in Sydney or back of Bourke? I think you'll find those estimates tend to be based on business models that are tailored for a metropolitan environment.

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GreyGhost said:

Are we talking about an "average postage stamp" in Sydney or back of Bourke? I think you'll find those estimates tend to be based on business models that are tailored for a metropolitan environment.

I dunno, I can't even remember where I read it, and it was a few years ago. The point is though, that deregulation of the post would lead to competition and lower prices.

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DuckReconMajor said:

I was gonna say this, but an increasing number of utility companies are starting to offer online payment. And it's getting more popular.

Online payment is problematic for regular bills. Granted, I don't know what the common procedure for those is elsewhere, but in Finland some companies offer bills that are directly sent to your online bank. Those would require you to check your online bank regularly to see that you've received them and then there's the whole aspect of online banking security: Sure the security is considered to be fairly good in the Scandinavian countries (due to particular security measures that are being taken for granted by all users of online banks), but I've heard horror stories of online banks from elsewhere that use only a username/password pair for authentication. Relying on systems with such weak security for everything you do with your money is a bad, bad idea.

Super Jamie said:

The point is though, that deregulation of the post would lead to competition and lower prices.

It would also lead to worse quality of service. Besides, post, among other basic services, is something you should want to be regulated by either the state or the local government.


EDIT: Forgot when I originally posted, bills are often important (and extremely useful) to have in paper form, too. Case in point: Accounting. Sure you could print e-mail bills, but that has the previously mentioned problem of bills getting lost more easily. E-mail bills also, again, have a problem of authenticity which can be important in some walks of life. Also a lot of smaller businesses using paper bills would probably shy away from online bills, for a lot of reasons (customer base, paper is just easier, possible service fees with online bills...).

Besides, there simply are a lot of people who consider e-mail, online banking and such as a "necessary evil" and they use those services only rarely. For example my mother, who has been working with computers for decades and uses the net almost daily still dislikes the idea of having to check her e-mail and she visits her online banks maybe once or twice in two weeks just to check her balance and to pay a couple of bills. She's especially annoyed by one particular online bank which updated its systems a while ago, since the new Java (wtf!?) bank takes just a few seconds longer to load. For her online-only bills would be a horror, not because it would be too hard to use them, but because it would be too inconvenient.

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Maes said:

{SNIP}
However legal and official documents still need to be in paper form and often need the presence of revenue stamps or equivalent forms of validation to be considered "real". How seriously would you take a bill or a legal document if it was delivered to you only in email form?
{SNIP}

UPS and FedEx do letters. If the post office goes away, there's the other, yet more expensive, option. If both of them were smart, they'd make the price competitive with the USPS, especially if it fails altogether.

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Super Jamie said:
The point is though, that deregulation of the post would lead to competition and lower prices.

Deregulation and privatizing the public service aren't the same thing. You can deregulate the postal system, allowing private enterprises certain niches or even direct competition with the state service in most areas, while having a state service that guarantees postal delivery even at a cost (which is often at least partially taken off the back of the direct user). You'll see party representatives and groups complain on one hand that the postal service may have a cost or a deficit, but on the other hand you'll see others pointing out that even then eliminating it would make it harder to deliver mail in certain areas where there's less profit in doing so or make all mail rely on private hands, which is not always desired, as public services, notwithstanding other issues, tend to be more transparent and accountable.

The main push behind the idea of privatizing may be coming from those who see it as a profitable business, other possible benefits aside. Whether costs would go down depends on many factors and how laws end up regulating the business, as eventual monopolies and hegemonies can be as bad as, or worse than, the state as far as pricing is concerned because they can play the same dominating role.

You can also go by a method of publicly subsidized private companies or a partially privatized state company, although those also have their complexities.

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I always shudder and get chills down my spine when thinking about the possibility that certain basic services like electricity, water, roads, mail etc. may one day become entirely private, especially with a full liberalization, no minimum performance requirements, and situations of monopoly/oligopoly: a private company will only operate as long as it deems an enterprise profitable, and abandon it overnight otherwise.

If e.g. the cartel of private companies building and maintaining roads suddenly realizes that it's not profitable anymore and there's no state-backed company powerful enough to take over their role, you'll wake up one day and discover you have no roads...or no water....or no electricity, your call.

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Electricity is already privatised here (Queensland, Australia if you want to Google). From what I understand, a whole heap of players flooded the market all at once, and have slowly been bought up or merged as they found their situation unprofitable. As a result, there are now only 2 or 3 major suppliers, plus a handful of smaller suppliers reselling electricity they buy wholesale off the bigger guys. There kinda is competition, but there isn't really.

Recently there has been outcry in the newspapers about prices rising and the average home's electricity bill costing $200 more over a year, however the state government competition authority itself is raising the costs, because the existing private carriers would probably go ass up if prices stayed how they are.

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That's the major flaw IMO: relying on an alleged "healthy competition" and the assumption that there will always be a big player or many smaller ones filling in for those that are driven out of the game.

IMO, while this may be acceptable for stuff like e.g. luxury cars, real estate or catering, it is not for basic services. A state that lets itself entirely in the hands of privates is doomed to suddenly fall apart overnight.

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Skeletor said:

So quite a number of post offices are closing across the states. Many years into the future...can you see the post office closing down completely? Packages still need to be delivered but FedEx and UPS will be there.

As already discussed, privatization is a possibility. The other possibility is the government/municipalities arranging outsourcing contracts with courier companies.

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Maes said:

IMO, while this may be acceptable for stuff like e.g. luxury cars, real estate or catering, it is not for basic services. A state that lets itself entirely in the hands of privates is doomed to suddenly fall apart overnight.


Water/Gas/Electricity supplies are all completely privatised in the UK. Have been for a couple of decades. And for the most part, it's fine. The thing is that everyone needs these things, because they ARE basic amenities. So there's always profit to be made, and there will always be companies out there willing to fill the gaps. You're sensationalising.

As for the Mail thing, I tend to agree that Mail should be at least regulated by the government, if not run by it, but I'm not sure what effects a totally privatised system would have because even here the Royal Mail is still government run. Even if they have privatised 99% of everything else. :p

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AirRaid said:
You're sensationalising.

In part you could say he is, but you have to consider that Britain is doing quite well in the world these days. In less stable countries things can break down for real, and situations occur where it's not worthwhile for the companies, which might largely be foreign groups not interested in local politics, to do business due to infrastructure costs.

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