Friday, January 22, 2010

End of Snail Mail – Not Quite

Despite the increase in electronic forms of communications over the years, the price of so-called “snail mail” continues to rise in Canada and around the world.

Earlier this week, Canada Post raised increased the price for sending a first-class letter within Canada from 54 cents to 57 cents. Letters to our neighbours in the United States now cost a whole dollar (an increase of two-cents) and all other letters from Canada to any other country on Earth now cost an additional five-cents, for a price of $1.70.

Usually the free market determines the costs of goods and services within that market – so in theory, you’d expect the costs of sending physical letters to drop, as everyone – even the youngest of children – use more immediate forms of communications, such as email, instant message, chat rooms, even posting a comment or question on a publicly available Internet forum is faster than the postie.

Ah the postie – traditional Canadian lingo for the man or woman that drudges through the rain, snow, sleet and hail to deliver our letter mail.

Posties are a dying breed in a nation which was in large part built by ‘em. Back in the 1980’s, long before everyone except that creepy uncle no one wants to talk about but does had a computer in their home, the nation’s postal service, Canada Post, introduced something they called “the super mailbox.”

As Canadian cities, towns and villages continued burst beyond their borders, there simply weren’t enough men and women around to deliver the mail. So Canada Post created these giant “super” mail boxes – big honking metal containers housing several independently locked mail boxes, each one belonging to all the residents or businesses on a specific street or set of streets. Now, one letter carrier would simply go to the super mailbox, unlock the back, and put each letter in the appropriate slot for the person or persons named on the letter.

To check your mail, you merely wander up to this mammoth mailbox, unlock your specific slot on the mailbox with your key, and grab your mail.

These super mailboxes began popping up in new residential and business areas from the 1980’s on. The only place letter carriers deliver door-to-door anymore in Canada, are those areas which always had door-to-door delivery, long before the super mailboxes came to be.

But one would expect that even those areas may one day be subjected to the super mailboxes, as technological communications further entrenches itself into our already very wired lives.

Not so according to Canada Post – hence their reasoning for raising the costs to send letter mail. The Canadian Federal government owned postal service says it delivers to about 15 million addresses across the country, with an additional 200, 000 addresses added every year. The government owned company says its mail processing equipment has been stretched beyond capacity, so the additional funds from the rates increases will offset the costs of bolstering its ability to keep up with demand.

The lone facsimile machine has almost completely died a slow death, as it is quicker and easier to just attach your documents to an email message, and click send. You can even send that document via instant message depending on the program, and if that’s not an option, and if you know the person well, you can even send documents directly to their computer over a peer-to-peer application, which lets you connect to someone else’s computer directly over the Internet.
With all the electronic forms of communication becoming more mobile-friendly, you can not only send and receive emails from most mobile devices (like cell phones and smart phones) but you can often send and receive documents, view presentations, and more.

The one thing electronic communications hasn’t replaced, is where documents have to be the original, authentic, or legal forms, with actual signatures. Until that happens, I suppose we’ll still need posties and super mailboxes to deliver our mail.

That, and for all those items we order online on places like eBay and other online stores. Until they figure out a way to send me my new network hard drive electronically, or that cool LCD high-def television – we’ll still need someone to deliver it right to our front doors.

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