Interesting factoid in the paper today: Per a U.S. Postal Service annual survey, the average American household receives one personal letter every seven weeks.
On first glance, I thought “yeah, that is about right”. My birthday was about 8 weeks ago, which means I’m due for another letter soon. But here is the kicker on that stat: the postal service does not include birthday, holiday, and other greeting cards in their criteria for a “personal letter”. Apparently, a personal letter to the USPS is like what Grandma used to do: write out an actual letter, put it in an envelope and mail it. (No word on if the USPS distinguishes between typed letters and true Grandma letters – tough to read cursive single spaced on a steno pad).
With that new insight, I racked my brain for the last “personal letter” I received. Hmm… Well, after I got rear-ended in March, I received a handful of personalized letters from personal injury lawyers checking on my health and desire to sue (and not in that order, mind you), but those were more of a solicitation than a personal letter. Last year, we received a Christmas gift in the mail from our daughter’s birth family which contained a very nice note, but a) it wasn’t addressed to me, and b) I think it would count more as a package than an individual letter. Otherwise, I am completely at a loss to recall the last time I received the U.S. Government definition of a personal letter in my mailbox. (FYI – the USPS says we used to get a personal letter every two weeks back in 1987).
Obviously, I am a big part of the problem: I also cannot recall the last personal letter I mailed. The only thing that comes to mind is a quick note I sent in July to the nice lady I purchase my Nebraska football season ticket from – and since that letter was serving a dual purpose (concealing the check and buttering her up so I can get the tickets again next year) I’m not sure it counts. Heck, with email, automatic bill payments, Facebook, and a host of other conveniences I do not send a lot of mail period. My wife and I wagered this summer on the price of a first class stamp, because neither one of us was entirely sure how much they are anymore (do you?).
Therefore, it is not surprising to me that the Postal Service is in serious, serious trouble. If it were a private business, they would have made major cuts a long time ago – or simply gone out of business. Instead, through an unhealthy stew of bureaucracy, red tape, and politicians afraid to piss off the last generations who know do not need to have “personal letter” defined for them*, nothing is getting done.
*Politicians have a simpler name for the generations who know what a personal letter is. They call them “voters”. The e-generations do not yet have the voting history of our parents and grandparents, so fiscal responsibility takes a back seat to not upsetting the Baby Boomers.
I could sit here and provide my ideas to help the Post Office cut costs (deliver 4 days a week, make people pay extra for delivery anywhere other than street side or a cluster box on the block, sell ads on the trucks, etc.) but it wouldn’t matter. All I know is that some day I’ll be able to baffle and bore my grandkids with stories about the primitive life before the turn of the century – filled with three channels, corded phones attached to the wall, and the ability to send a handwritten note from Nebraska to Oregon for 29 cents – and we’ll probably do it via some next-gen, 3-D virtual web chat.