While on my quest for my next job, I received some rather interesting advice from a trained professional. Write a letter to prospective employers and send it to them in a hand-addressed envelope via the U.S. mail. The idea makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t like to get a personalized letter?
For quite a few years now, political campaigns have sent out mailers, which appear to be handwritten even though they are simply printed that way. Sporting several colors of ink, using font that isn’t nice and smooth, both of these tactics serve to draw one’s eye and make you think that the letter is actually something important, something special written just for you.
Therefore, in late January/early February, I sent out about thirty of these letters hoping to find the next step in my career. How do you think this project faired? Well, I assume you’re guessing not that it was not very successful given the title of this article. And you’d be right.
Of the thirty, one was returned to me for bearing an incorrect address. One group politely declined via email and yet another responded with a return letter in the post. That was it. Of the supposedly successfully delivered twenty-nine, only two resulted in a reply. This low level of success coupled with a handful of other factors is making me wonder, is the mail dead? Has the U.S. Postal Service run its course and now serves little purpose in the electronic age?
After all, what kind of mail do we mostly get these days? Junk mail, right? Letters offering us credit cards, imploring us to donate to charities we’ve never heard of, catalogs from LL Bean and Lands End, and boring pages from politicians. Okay, so maybe only political junkies like myself get too much of the last kind. But if you go to your mailbox, certainly the bulk of it is just like I describe, right?
Sure, we do get an assortment of important mail too. Every month we get our bills: credit card, electric, sewer and water, cable and Internet, car, and phone service. But can’t we pay most, if not all, of these monthly expenses online? And don’t these companies keep encouraging us to “go green” by ending our paper statements through the mail? Heck, I haven’t paid either my cell phone or credit card bills via the post office in years. Ever since one of my credit payments got lost in the mail and Capital One stuck me with a rather unpleasant late fee, I’ve sworn off this less than reliable method.
But what about packages? Certainly the U.S. Post Office is still useful for sending packages? Although it’s true that I’ve sent multiple items via the email over the years, I must confess that I’ve never sent anything too valuable. For important stuff, I always use UPS or FedEx. Sure, it costs more to do so, but unlike the USPS, with either of these two companies I’ve never had a package mysteriously disappear without a trace, never properly compensated for its loss. Sure, the post office is much less expensive, but how large is the hidden cost of subsides courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer?
Getting back to my own personal saga of job hunting, I decided to send the very same letter to the very same people via email over the last several days and weeks. Any guesses on the response rate this time? About 75%, which is far higher than the post. My only guess here is that most people these days don’t have either the time or the interest to going browsing through their stack of mostly worthless junk mail.
So is the mail dead? Has email and the Internet now completely supplanted the old communications methods of our fathers? And, if so, should we continue to subsidize a dying industry when its cheaper, faster, and more convenient replacement lies at our fingertips twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?
As more and more Americans digitize their lives, maybe it’s time to set the mail free from the government and see if it can survive in the free market. Will such a suggestion result in the death of the mail? I’ll admit that it is quite likely. But if it serves little purpose anymore, other than supporting philatelists and a legion of government workers, don’t you think the best course of action is to let it die with a quiet dignity and fully embrace the technology of the 21st century?