Monday, January 17, 2005

On The Decline of An Anachronism

Okay, everyone out there raise your hands: how many of you use snail-mail anymore?

I ask this because today Canada Post raised its domestic first-class mail rate to 50 cents. Yep -- for four bits (plus GST) you can mail a personal letter in about double the time it takes to fire off an e-mail and expect it to be read.

Of course you can't really blame Canada Post; since the advent of the Internet, not to mention the courier companies, mail volume's gone down quite a bit, apart from the junk mailings, the magazines and the packages that sail in now that people are using the Net to order stuff. They have to make money somewhere, right?

And there's also the fact that, as far as I can tell, mail service has actually improved. I sent Christmas cards to my family in Coquitlam, B.C., on Dec. 15th; they tell me the cards arrived three days later. Ten years ago that wouldn't have been possible.

All the same, those of us who remember when a first-class stamp was only 5 cents have to shake our heads in wonder at how inflation has struck us. Even as we click on the "Send" button.

But that's pretty much all we're going to do.

In the 1980's, there would have been a great hue and cry among the public. Not anymore. There are better alternatives. Paying bills? Either ATMs or through secure websites. Private correspondence? E-mail. Packages? UPS or Purolator or FedEx.

We're at the point now where a national postal service like Canada Post is no longer the necessity of life that it used to be. New technological networks have made the old one a backup system at best, a redundant anachronism at worst. (At least in the urban centres; in rural communities and the North, Canada Post is still a vital network, which is why I'm not calling for anything drastic to happen to it.)

We're not ready to write an epitaph for the first-class postage stamp. But it is time for an obituary to be planned.