One of the great facilitators during the COVID pandemic and its obstructive lockdowns has been Zoom and FaceTime technology. While we can’t have and hold our distant loved ones, nor sit beside our business associates in a real meeting, we can still stay in video touch. And a plus: who knows where our correspondents actually are, given the virtual backgrounds.
Now we can sympathize with those resolute souls drifting out there on the International Space Station.
But closer to home, our more traditional communications technology has taken yet another hit. Last business quarter, October 1- December 31, 2020, the United States Postal Service delivered only 4,214,093,000 letters. Understand that these are single-piece letters in the three months ending with the nation’s biggest holiday season.
That includes birthday cards, get well cards, condolences, love letters, thank you notes, party invitations, wedding announcements, birth announcements, bridal showers, baby showers, graduations, promotions, retirements, Thanksgiving cards, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa cards, letters to friends and family. It will also include payments to utilities, healthcare companies, credit cards, presidential campaign donations, doctors, lawyers, landlords and landscapers, to name a few.
You may consider 4.2 billion pieces a lot of mail. It is not. In 2012, just 8 years ago, the USPS delivered 6.3 billion single piece letters. Today’s effort has shrunk by a third since then.
And we can’t point to the monthly billing and statementing habits of utilities and financial houses as the culprit either. In 2012, for the same period, they mailed 9.9 billion pieces. Eight years later, the 2020 volume only shrank 15%. Meanwhile, personal letters dropped 33%.
It’s easy to shrug it off as a sign of the changing times. We are happy to resort to email to send our personal messages. Postal mail takes too long.
Except now, in this pandemic we live in a communications desert devoid of real, personal contact. And with time on our hands, there is the opportunity to take pen to paper.
To wit: last June, we received a post card from an enterprising lady in Kansas who announced her personal goal to write cards to everyone she knew. She wrote and mailed over 300! We have another friend who makes it a regular effort to mail us a short letter, just to keep the lines open with family news. We have neighbors only four houses down the street who send a thank you note by mail for the simplest of favors received.
Who does that any more? What kind of forgotten politeness is that? But yet so important when you consider the time and energy taken to practice this simple etiquette.
Another instance, I released Norfolk Chronicles last July. In it I wrote a chapter “Will You Write Me?” Lo and behold I received a number of handwritten letters from my readers, totally unexpected. It struck a nerve.
This lockdown has taken away the traditional time restrictions we used to incorporate in our daily lives. We aren’t commuting. We aren’t traveling to meetings. We forgo vacations. Stuck at our home offices with flexible hours, in our pajamas, the time for composing and writing is opened up. And when the USPS will pick up at our door, what’s the obstacle?
Meanwhile, we didn’t get 226,580,000 letters just last quarter. They did not show up. Because we failed to write them.
In real terms, the USPS reported that the quarterly shortfall weighed 1,837 tons. If that weight is too hard to visualize, think of nine empty Boeing 747s lined up on a desert in Nevada. There’s your missing letters.
Thanks for reading! I hope you have a few family friends and neighbors that deserve your written words. Just as an aside, the USPS did have an astounding quarter delivering parcels. In 2012, they delivered 752 million pieces in the three months leading to Christmas. This past 2020, they topped out at 2 billion-plus.