Mail Chauvinism: E-Mail and the Postal Service, Circa 1980

The future is hard to predict and even harder to conrol. In 1980, representatives of the Postal Service saw the agency retaining control of e-mail just as it does paper mail.

The title is not mine. It comes from an article by the same name written by Ted Nelson in Creative Computing magzine in 1981.

The article recounts a conference held December 11 and 12, 1980 in the Rayburn Building in Washington. It was called the Electronic Mail and Message Conference. Sponsored by various Federal agencies, the audience and speakers were largely Federal employees, including the US Postal Service.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss, in part, the future of “electronic mail.” The term e-mail was not used. The Postal Service was worred about the future this new technology would have on the agency.

Paul Jacquish, Senior Assistant Postmaster General, Research and Technology Group said:

We must control service. We cannot allow our resources to be sprited away. We have a legislative mandate and a financial requirement.

How would this new technology work? The Postal Service envisoned a system like the one it was used to. Essentially, a paper mail system with computers used to speed delivery by a carrier. It envisioned customers going to a post office to have their letter or document scanned, delivered by computer to another post office, and then hand-delivered by a mail carrier. The second generation of electronic mail would have allowed customers to use a terminal instead of scanning to get it to a mail carrier quickly and a third generation of the system would have allowed terminal to terminal mail delivery. Not to surprising, the Postal Service saw its agency (or company) as keeping a monopoly on “electronic mail” just as it currently does on first-class mail today.

What about longer documents? Not a problem. According to a consultant addressing the conference: “You’re not going to see books and newspapers transmitted in the next twenty years.”

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47