The Real Mail DealBy Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 1997; Page C05
Dear Postmaster General Marvin Runyon: As I write this letter, I'm still pondering your United States Postal Service Web pages.
What a strange site to behold.
It's rife with high-anxiety warnings. "Customers demand value and convenience," you say. "They want solutions that save time and are hassle-free. They need new products and services that provide new capabilities, and they want all these things in a hurry."
Your online annual report, "On the Move," is enlightening, if also a little out-of-breath. "The race is on!" "We will deliver!" Even your customer service plan, CustomerPerfect!, includes the melodramatic punctuation. What exclamatorily is your point?
Maybe you're just catching on to time warp -- that we've entered a temporal winter and the days are shrinking.
But actually, you're missing the boat, Marv. The U.S. mail is not really about speed. It's not even about certainty. It's about history and mystery and letters of love. It's about the Pony Express. It's about stopping by the student center and finding the perfumed letter slanting sideways in the cubbyhole like a lavender backslash. It's about Dear John, send money, summer camp and sealing wax.
Advertising and first-class mail, such as letters and bill payments, make up 91 percent of all U.S. mail and bring in 82 percent of your revenues. You worry that these two critical markets face stiff and swift competition from electronic services and the Internet.
You're wrestling with the big question: Can snail mail prevail?
"Only the most creative and innovative communications companies," you write, "will have the mettle to challenge for marketplace survival in this global competition."
After looking at your Web site, I'm convinced more than ever that you should stick to basics.
The section called InkCredible Stories, for example, makes no sense whatsoever. I tried to read "Hot Spice Cold Cash." In the introduction you explain that it's a southern tale aflow with families and feuds, but for the life of me, I couldn't follow it worth a flip.
Why is the U.S. Postal Service even telling me these stories? If I don't have time to write a letter, or a check, I sure don't have time to waste on these cockamamie tales. I'm In A Hurry! remember? Time Is Running Out!
Maybe some of your site got mangled in a mailing machine. Or perhaps it's stored in a letter carrier's garage. The Unforgettable Letters section, for instance, should be called Unfindable Letters. Talk about lost in the mail. And why can't we buy stamps online in the Post Office section of your Web site?
But what I love the postal service for can't be found on the computer screen.
As I learn the advantages and value of e-mail, I cherish some of the old-fashioned ways more and more. When I get a real letter now from a real friend written with a real pen and real ink, I read it real slow -- several times -- and file it away for safekeeping.
Anyone -- even a bank or an insurance company -- who takes time to write a letter these days must have something important to say. You should encourage all of us to write more thoughtful, meaningful letters. As a society, we should take pride in handwritten notes and epistles.
We shouldn't think of it as snail mail. It's escargot.
Sincerely, The Navigator
The Navigator can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
GETTING THERE: The United States Postal Service, http://www.usps.gov
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