How long has it been since you wrote someone a letter, or enclosed a note on a greeting card, and mailed it via the U.S. Postal Service? If you're under 35, chances are the answer is ''never have,'' preferring to do all of your distance communicating using cell phones and the Internet.
That, dear reader, is at the heart of the Postal Service's May 17 decision to close the Youngstown mail processing and distribution center by early next year. One hundred and forty such centers nationwide will be closed, and about 500 Youngstown employees will have to either take early retirement or move elsewhere to remain employed by the USPS.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says total mail volume doesn't justify the number of processing facilities in use and downsizing is needed.
Of course, the Postal Service's budget crunch was caused by more than just declining mail volumes. Congress deserves much of the blame because it imposed burdensome rules and restrictions on the USPS that aren't placed on any other governmental agency or department. One is the requirement for the Postal Service to fund employee retiree benefits 75 years in advance and not allow them to freely sell packaging products because that might take some sales from private sector vendors.
Congressman Tim Ryan blames the Republican majority in the House, but these rules were a bipartisan effort before the majority changed in 2011. As for the cost to mail an envelope? Obviously paying only 45 cents to mail a letter or bill across the country is quite cheap. Try sending the same envelope through FedEx or UPS and see how much it costs. Furthermore, the Postal Service has become much more efficient over the years.
I know there are many people, especially the young, who don't see the need for postal service - "snail mail'' they call it. Call me old-school if you want, but I recognize advantages to snail mail over electronic communications.
For example, if someone mails me an important paper communication I can take it into my home, read it and then store it there securely. No one but I and the sender will know the contents of that letter, ever.
But communications over the Internet are not secure. Any competent hacker can get into your computer, into your email, read whatever they want and copy whatever they choose.
Those usernames and passwords you think protect your privacy? They are nothing but a temporary annoyance to a skillful hacker.
We could debate the philosophy behind this, but suffice it to say I believe if we give up our privacy we've given up our freedom. ... And let's not forget that initial contacts between child molesters and their victims are often over the Internet.
Our parents and grandparents saved certain letters throughout their lives, for historical and/or sentimental value. If all our communications become electronic, then obviously storing valuable letters will become impractical or even impossible - not enough space on the computer hard drive for it all over a lifetime.
The environmental argument has been made that going electronic saves a lot of trees that would have been harvested to make paper. We already are reducing paper usage in different ways. And trees are a renewable resource. In the meantime, landfills are being filled with electronic gear that was new only a few years ago but is already considered old and outdated.
There are those, no doubt, who would welcome the USPS going out of business, believing that efficiency and the lower costs of electronic communications are their own reward. Frankly, that depends on how one measures costs. I know the hundreds of people who lose their jobs in Youngstown will measure the cost differently, and waiting an extra two or three days to receive my mail will cause me to measure it differently as well.
Dunlap is a Weathersfield resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.