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Monday, February 11, 2013

U.S. Postal Service: Home Delivery Up Next?

After years of billion-dollar losses, the U.S. Postal Service announced in February 2013 that the “long-held tradition of Saturday delivery” would come to an end. Only packages would still be delivered on Saturdays. The Postal Service expected the change to save $2 billion a year. That even such a minor “tradition” would have had such staying power amid billions of dollars of losses supports the old adage, old habits die hard. It is as if even a minor change from a long-standing practice would throw us into chaos. Our tolerance for ending things that have been around seemingly forever is far too limited.
Moreover, the human aversion to changing long-standing customs or practices adversely narrows perception itself. For example, the much costlier, labor-intensive practice of delivering mail to homes was as though above critique. Particularly with many Americans paying their bills online, the “need” for mail delivery even five days a week to one’s house can alternatively be viewed as antiquated.  It is as if that practice had gone on as though without any thought on it itself.
                                               Is this highly labor-intensive custom really necessary?    source: zimbio
The door-to-door salesmen selling vacuums or Bibles had surely become a relic long after the film Paper Moon popularized the lifestyle. Why then have we held on to the notion that mail should be delivered to one’s apartment building or house? We go to stores to get food and medicine. Particularly with so many people paying bills online, is mail so much more vital than food or medicine that we couldn’t just as well stop by our local post office to pick up our mail a few times a week? At the very least, we would not be bothered by the anxiety of whether a threatening notice is waiting for us at home. Just as computer technology has enabled the automation of stored-book retrieval in a few academic libraries (e.g., the University of Chicago), the Postal Service could automate mail retrieval so millions of P.O. Boxes would not be necessary.
In short, we humans are not very good at “thinking outside the box” of current custom. Put another way, habits that have gone on seemingly forever have a habit of going on mindlessly. The U.S. Postal Service has suffered greatly from this particular human proclivity. Perhaps with a wider perspective other institutions can be found that are similarly suffering assumed demands to perpetuate practices that are no longer justified.

U.S. Postal Service Right to End Era of Saturday Delivery: Poll,” The Huffington Post, February 9, 2013.