While in Washington this past summer, I finally made it to the National Postal Museum (pictured above and below) which is part of the Smithsonian Institution and is located right next to Union Station in what was once the city’s main postal building. Although small, the museum was inspirational, showing how the growth of the post office paralleled the growth of the country. My visit reminded me that despite my embrace of computers and technology, nothing matches the feeling of finding a piece of first class mail waiting for you at home (so long as it’s not a bill).
For these reasons, it was with some sadness that I read of the extreme measures that the US Postal Service plans to implement to stabilize its finances. The plan is to raise the cost of postage (from 44 cents to 45 cents in mid-January) and to reduce the quality of service (delivery in two days instead of one for most first class mail). While the USPS may have no other options, their revitalization plan strikes me as completely irrational; a type of half-measure that will do little to reverse the negative trends of the past decade.
The post office is not the only once-solid institution in society whose business model has been shattered by the disruptive innovation of the Internet and related technologies, nor is it the only institution to wait far too long to even seek an effective response to these technological challenges. It seems to me that the post office still needs an “effective response” because the current plan – charging more for less service – certainly isn’t the answer. I hope there will always be a US Post Office, but if that is to be the case, bolder measures will have to be undertaken than those now under consideration.