In the wake of a recession and a budget increasingly in the red the United States postal service has lobbied congress for a 5 day rather than 6 postal delivery week as well as announced the possible closing of up to 700 post offices nationwide. Reasons for the change include less mail volume, fewer letters due to e-mail and a redundancy in post offices that can no longer be supported with the postal service billions of dollars in the red. While some site other inefficiencies within the postal system that would better serve the public than the of closing post offices, we are also seeing the disappearance of those blue postal mailboxes; besides the nostalgic and historical value of hand written letters and the fixture of the blue boxes there are real consequences to these pieces of history going by the wayside. One small town in Virginia was set to lose its post office notified by a notice taped to the box that would have forced a 4-mile trek to the post office in the next town, until they engaged in a vehement protest. It’s not just small towns; the third largest city in Pennsylvania is also losing its characteristic blue postal boxes. Losing boxes and losing one possible delivery day a week has real ramifications in terms of paying bills and disseminating other business correspondence.
In the age of e-mail, text messaging, Myspace, Facebook, Youtube and the surprisingly useful business applications of twitter, one may see this as just the progression of the 21st century out with the old in with the new; however, there are consequences to this and the trend towards a paperless society. With the proliferation of the internet and browser tools on even the cheapest of cellular phones, in the age of online shopping, banking, bill pay, and even web cam or Skype like medical consultations, we easily forget the days before those things and some of their hidden dangers. Companies in an effort to go green have gone paperless or nearly so; credit card companies, in the wake of new regulations, want to begin charging for paper statements sent to customers. All this creates huge potential problems when it comes to monthly bill statements; older people may not have a computer or the knowledge to use one to pay on-line or simply understand the billing statement, the amount that is owed; paper statements by far are easier to read. The tactile sensations can be crucial for some in comprehension, or it could be a practical matter of making sure your billing notice is not deleted from your e-mail, whereas before people could simply go pick up their paper bill and read the amount due. Access can be an issue as well with older individuals who no longer drive, and that is further complicated by having to go to the library, assuming your town has one, to access computers to play things like basic utilities.
Even for people not on fixed incomes and not in a transportation predicament the increased processing time for on-line bill pay can be hard on people just making ends meet, as it can take days of extra time for bills to make it through the system as paid. Unfortunately this can result in disconnection notices, hikes on credit card fees, difficulty in getting a mortgage or car loan, increased rates for those showing late payments on any of those. Besides the processing headache of making sure your bills get paid on time when paying on-line, there is also the issue of dealing with errors and making sense of the statement you are viewing in on-line format, being able to keep accessible records. The latter may be vital in filing a tax return, applying for benefits or any kind of assistance; proof of residence is a requirement for a number of things, including some jobs. For those new to this world, forgotten e-mail addresses and lost passwords can wreak havoc in making sure the lights stay on and the heat runs.
And this is not the only thing entities are pushing to put on-line; people are being encouraged more and more to put everything on-line do their banking, bill play, shopping, file their taxes, apply for social security and retirement benefits. Direct deposit flyers are a staple mailing included with paper checks for social security recipients. While security has gotten better for shopping and banking sites, seems to be top of the line for things like social security, we still see stories on the news of popular baking giants finding someone hacked their system, likewise with popular credit card companies; thanks to a security breach in a Pentagon system dozens of social security numbers and other identifying facts got out about personnel. Identity theft is an ever-growing problem that will only get worse if and when people are forced to become more tech savvy. It also places a larger burden on the everyday citizen to always have intent access, to have one or more backup plans if their e-mail or internet is suddenly down and they can’t pay their bills; it creates another headache when buying a new PC or changing, upgrading e-mail providers.
At the same time, it is not just privacy and security concerns that plague the internet; it is stability. The internet is not stable enough for everyone to be forced to do their bill paying on-line. We have seen evidence of this with crashes of sites like Twitter and Myspace. Outages of internet and wireless services have made national news when they rendered smart phones useless; popular cable and internet giant Mediacom left hundreds if not thousands of customers in a lurch for a minimum 7 hours in 22 states due to an outage. These kinds of things will only happen more and more if people are forced to turn to the internet to do everything. Concerns are now being raised about the vulnerability of the computer systems used to run our power plants; could they be the next possible targets for terrorist attack? Yet here is our postal system pushing us one step further internet everything. Likewise you can’t operate any kind of business, but certainly not a utility company, a basic phone company where viruses wipe out records of customers having paid their bills, where disconnections in service prevent sending billing statements in a timely fashion, where billing statements come with half the page missing or customers are unable to open them because of conflicts in software or other glitches, all possibilities when going paperless.
Unfortunately, with the implosion of the newspaper business, with the rollouts of the Kindle, the Nook and Apple’s new i-pad, a paperless world is coming; newspapers will soon be downloaded to e-readers along with books, magazines, manuals and any sort of thing once found in paper format will be downloaded to this type of technology. People, dazzled by pervious gadgets like the i-pod, also do not see they are being ripped off that all these new toys have limited gigabyte space to store books, images, newspaper articles. After you have exceeded the space given to you, you must delete books, articles, whatever stored content to make room for more, or buy a newer version with more space, creating a record keeping nightmare regardless of the new technology. Smart phones are now being invaded with stalking software, now require anti virus programs to keep them safe; people who find stalking software must have their phones original operating system restored by the provider or buy a new phone. Since you are downloading materials from internet sites into your e-reader, the same thing could potentially happen to them, quickly equating to flushing money and important documents down the toilet. On the other hand you can place important documents like deeds to homes, wills, tax information, tax returns in fire proof boxes, safety deposit boxes that will protect from most natural disasters.
Returning to post offices, closing actual offices will cause more of a headache all around when it takes longer to physically get the mail to its destination. Reducing delivery days and incrementally phasing out the postal service all together, a logical conclusion in the coming years, not only puts more stress on the individual, creates more hardship for those just getting by, as they have one less postal processing day to make sure their bills get paid, but it also fundamentally rewrites the rules regarding businesses and notifications. Many notifications are required to be put in writing and to be given with so many days notice, which is harder to do with less postal delivery days compounded by less places for postal processing. Notifications you would once find in your mailbox will be found in your e-mail; this becomes a multi- facet problem as important documents may find their way to your junk folder and be accidentally deleted by you or automatically deleted by your e-mail program. Companies, government agencies and other entities required to give such notifications are notoriously horrible at keeping up with things like change of address, phone number, even when given to them as per their instructions; the same will be true of people and their e-mail addresses; then the notifications may thus never reach the recipient.
Other issues found when dealing with electronic only notifications involve the technology being ripe for scams and viruses official looking documents designed to put spy ware, add ware or malware on your computer, designed to get personal information like bank account numbers, social security numbers, passwords. It is much easier to fake an official looking document via e-mail that can cost companies and agencies business or flood their customer service centers with questions. People also tend to take things sent via e-mail less seriously than tangible things they can hold. On-line backups for sensitive materials and things individuals simply don’t want to lose are increasing in popularity, but what happens when someone hacks those or the company blows a server and loses customer content? The answer, people have just lost all or a portion of their medical records, tax records, billing statements mortgage information, whatever they chose to put into file backup, causing people to have to go through the momentous task of replacing them something that can be very difficult to do when the documents are the only tangible proof of your mortgage, will or evidence of having filed your taxes.
Contrasting all of this you have the postal service that has a decades long history of reliability; the old slogan about nothing stopping the postal service, rain sleet, snow, has become less true with crippling extremes in weather happening in recent years. But, the post office provides consistency like nothing else, pales in comparison to its electronic counterparts even when taking into account how new some of them are. No the post office cannot always operate in the red, but there are other measures even those within the postal service admit can be taken. Others insist on implementing those first before making the kinds of drastic changes officials presented to congress; reducing and removing largely unused blue postal boxes is one thing but residential mail boxes need to stay in place; towns like the one in Virginia do not need to lose their one and only public mailbox as long as there is something being put in it. Simultaneously we need to slow down the paperless push and instead lobby to shore up all of our computer systems, internet stability before it all crashes and we are propelled back to the 1950’s, only this time without the older methods and mechanisms in place to sustain us, before we put ourselves in the technological dark ages by moving too fast.