Communication Shapeshifting, the USPS, and Atos Banning Email

I read this morning (and heard on the news while driving in) that the USPS is asking Congress to let it relax the requirements for first class mail delivery. Aside from the obvious observation that the USPS being tethered to Congress is in no small part a factor in their deteriorating financial condition, the other thought I had is why this is getting so much attention.

If the reason that the USPS is suffering an irreversible decline in their mail delivery business is that people are sending less mail, then obviously fewer people would be impacted by a slowdown in the first class mail delivery timeline. So my Christmas cards will arrive a little later than in years past… I’ll live.

Slowing down mail delivery to save costs is logical because for matters that are time sensitive the USPS’s customer base has already moved on to electronic delivery, which is instant and costs less than mailing anything. Move over to bill paying, as a representative example, and the integration of consumer bill paying with banking services offers a convenience that the USPS would never achieve. Done. Over.

Ordinarily I would not have given this much thought but last week another story made the rounds about a French IT company banning email (complete with a picture of a mailbox… bonus points!). If there are two things I have learned from my years of blogging it is that if you write a post titled “Britney Spears Nude Pics” you will get a lot of search hits and if you declare email is dead the traditional media will descend on you like a plague of locusts… I know because I’ve done both with the attendent results, in the case of the latter it went on a for years and even included CNN calling me to be on a program (I declined… was tired of talking about email at that point).

The story about Atos banning email is not about Atos banning email at all… it’s about communication in different forms and when the history is written they will find that nothing has changed, ironically, for the inverse reason that the USPS is in a state of decline.

Sending a letter is an act of communication, one which has a cost associated with it, while sending an email or an IM or a Facebook message or a Twitter DM or even an SMS, in most cases, are also communications acts but ones that do not have cost associated with (costs directly conveyed to the consumer). As a result there has been explosive growth in electronic communication, and services have been built on both the convenience and the cost advantage that electronic enjoys over traditional mail.

However this is not a zero sum equation, we do all of the above and not one of the above to the exclusion of all others. This is where the Atos story goes off the rails, the company has already said two things, the first being that for customer communication they will still rely on email, and the second that for employee communication they will use IM and Facebook messaging. In the case of the former they are clearly acknowledging that email is here to stay and in the latter they are doing nothing to reduce the volume of messages or make information easier to find… they are using a different communication technology in place of email but email will still be used.

People like to say email is broken. It’s not and in the history of technology few things could be highlighted as well as email that demonstrate incredibly precise product-to-problem fit while delivering a service longevity and extension. Email is brilliant, how we use it is a challenge even in that case we have developed highly evolved behaviors around prioritizing, sorting, organizing, and attention which only serve to demonstrate how ideally suited general purpose email is to a wide range of communication needs.

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Read more on United States Postal Service (USPS) at Wikinvest