Nov 012011
 
Authors: Matt Miller

On Monday I walked into a post office for the first time since I was a child, and I would have been more at home in a Lamaze class.

All I wanted to do was mail two packets containing my portfolio and resume to newspapers I wanted to intern at. But what was standing in the way of my potential future was my complete unfamiliarity with the United States Postal Service and traditional mail in general.

In the days leading up to my trip to the post office, I was dreading the thought of figuring out what sort of envelope to use. The idea of postage was beyond me, and I hadn’t the slightest idea where the nearest post office was.

All of my ineptitudes with mail were amplified by the fact that these applications were due by Nov. 1 and I had hours of research to do. So I did what any sensible person my age would do: I Googled “How to address a letter.” I didn’t want to mess it up and send it to Kazakhstan.

Then I searched “Fort Collins Post Office” in Map Quest and found a post office (to my surprise) within walking distance from my house.

So with my research done, I found myself in the elusive post office.

I was immediately struck by how it gave off the same vibe as a hospital. Shouldn’t some place that connects people to literally every corner of the earth be filled with adventure and wonder? I guess not.
Some places remind you of your childhood. For me, the post office was one of those places. I was waiting in line with my mother, hating my surroundings and pissed there were no toys in sight.

This feeling of dread that the post office so gladly expels is something the good people of Germany, who brought us things like highways, BMWs and communism, are trying to fix.

A New York Times article that ran on Sunday described a post office that sold DVDs, umbrellas, phone cards and toys. The article, “Deutsche Post Reinvents Services in a Digital World,” discussed how post offices are trying to stay relevant as mail volumes decrease 1 to 2 percent annually around the world.

I say great job, Germany. Bring some glamour to the mail business. Get Kim Kardashian’s butt on some stamps, because we are clearly not interested in what you’re selling.

We have email now. Why risk the grueling horrors of the post office when the service can be done instantly through a computer?

Back at the Fort Collins post office, I was standing in line. In fact, I stood in line for nearly 20 minutes. Why? Because only one poor woman was working.

In the last three years alone, mail volume in the United States has decreased by 20 percent; the USPS has fired scores of employees and this summer it started to close up to 3,000 post offices across the country.

When I got to the counter, the lady working expressed what many in the mail business must have been feeling. She said, “Someone is out sick today. I don’t think my boss understands that I won’t get a break at all today.”

With my personal feelings for her choice of employer aside, I felt bad for her.

This summer, while working for the Greeley Tribune, I was sent to report on a small town in eastern Colorado that was losing its post office.

The entire town (about 90 people) showed up to talk to me about how distraught they were about losing their post office. They were losing one of the last remaining threads of their town –– a link to the past they all shared. I thought it was telling that the average age of this town was about 70.

The town I went to represents the portion of America still clinging to the past or not technologically savvy enough to adapt to our new forms of communication: the Internet. My hatred for the post office stands in stark contrast to their love for it.

For our college generation, the post office is an inconvenience that has been replaced by the quicker and more efficient email. And as we grow older, will traditional mail fade?

Obviously, we will still need to send packages, but traditional mail needs to do something. Like the post offices in Germany that allow people to download postage through their phone, the USPS needs to adapt or die.

I read a story on theawl.com a few weeks ago about the intimacy of letter writing. The story talked about how much our grandparents like when we write them a letter, and mentions the sweetness of the letters Ryan Gossling sent in “The Notebook.”

But to our college generation, this is all traditional mail is –– nostalgia. Like listening to vinyl or making a mixtape, mail is reserved for that fun, throwback feel rather than a viable form of communication.

News Editor Matt Miller is a junior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:43 pm

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