Snail Mail: The Next Bailout

OK. On to the next bailout: snail mail. Looks like the U.S. Postal Service is going belly up. Twitter anyone?

Here’s from a USA Today article this morning:

The financially strapped U.S. Postal Service will run out of money this year without help from Congress, Postmaster General John Potter warned on Wednesday.

“We are facing losses of historic proportion. Our situation is critical,” Potter told a House subcommittee.

The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and is looking at much larger losses this year said Potter, who is seeking congressional permission to reduce mail delivery from six days to five days a week.

Potter also urged changes in how it pre-pays for retiree health care to cut its annual costs by $2 billion.

If the Postal Service does run out of money, the lingering question, Potter told the House Oversight post office subcommittee, is which bills will get paid and which will not.

Kind of an interesting dilemma facing Congress — and ultimately — taxpayers here. And it’s not unlike the situation facing the administration and Congress next week when a decision has to be made about what to do with GM and Chrysler.

Have we reached the point in this country where any large institution — public or private — is too large to fail? Maybe. Can we live without manufacturing autos in the U.S.? Without snail mail? Maybe not.

With the U.S. Postal Service — as with the automakers — thousands of jobs are at stake here. And this follows, by accounts in the USA Today article, a whole series of already completed or expected moves to reduce costs, including voluntary retirement programs and other cutbacks.

But here’s reality. The nation doesn’t rely on — or use — snail mail the way it did years ago. Volume, it appears, is way down — sparked by the economic downturn and changes in technology. And in a lot of ways that’s a shame.

I enjoy scanning the updates on Facebook. And Twitter is the most amusing time-suck ever invented — and I’ll admit, I’m beginning to see some value in it both professionally and personally.

But I was thinking about this this morning. I kind of miss getting a personal letter or even a postcard from a real-world friend. I can’t remember the last time that happened. And maybe it’s generational. Like looking forward each day to reading a newspaper, dead-tree edition.

And like many (most?) people these days, I get hundreds of e-mails each day/week — personal and business related. Many are junk — and magically disappear with a touch of the delete key. But others just sit there on the screen, virtually crying out at you: “C’mon asshole. Hurry up and reply. It’s been 30 seconds or so.”

Remember when you could go to the office and leisurely sort through the stack of mail that appeared on your desk once or more during the day? I do. But most likely those under 50 reading this don’t. And again, I think we have lost something there. Snail mail gave you the opportunity to craft a thoughtful response — and it made it difficult to slam everyone with the “reply to all.” (By the way, I wonder what we did to waste time at work before the advent of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, the Food Channel online and so on? Must have been some long, boring days. I digress.)

Oh well. I can’t imagine the Congress will let the Postal Service go belly up. For those of us living in the electronic online echo chamber — let’s try to remember that not everyone spends their days tethered to e-mail, Facebook and so on. And many people — yound and old — don’t have access to computers, or don’t know how to use them or have any interest in learning.

And if we are at all concerned about the increasing number of government bailouts, here’s a way we can help. Unrealistic to think that everyone can go out and buy a new car. But how about writing a letter — one where ink actually touches paper — and sending it to someone via snail mail.

Gee. That might actually be fun — and it may save some jobs and some taxpayer bucks in the process.

Now, if I could just get rid of that damn tweeting noise on my computer.

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