In the Sorting Office: privatization of postal services

James Meek at the London Review of Books reviews the privatization of postal services. Excerpt:

…. By 1982, a hundred thousand executives in the US were wired into a fad called ‘electronic mail’. The office system consultants Urwick Nexos were scornful of this frivolous innovation. ‘Who wants to replace a diary by a thousand pound terminal and have to learn to type in the process?’ they sneered. ‘What is wrong with a memo? About 90 per cent of letters are delivered next day and that is fast enough for most requirements. If you want to send an urgent telex you can always go to the telex room with a handwritten note.’ By 1985, the word ‘email’, initially spelled with a hyphen, began to replace ‘electronic mail’. The US firm MCI offered a transatlantic service to its American clients. It only took a minute for the sender’s email to flash to MCI’s state of the art receiving centre in Brussels, where it would be lovingly printed out and hand-carried to its destination by a Belgian postman.

And then everybody learned to type. Before I started working on this article, I thought about trying to set up the interviews by post. I didn’t think about it very long. I sent no letters for the article, and received none. I phoned, emailed, texted, Skyped, Vibered, Gmail Chatted and Googled. It’s almost Easter, but I’ve only just used the last of my Christmas stamps. I sent a card to a friend to thank her for dinner and she emailed back to thank me for my thank you. This morning in the post I received a bank statement I don’t need, a credit card statement I don’t need and a card from Ed Miliband urging me to go online to tell him my priorities for moving Britain forward.

I found the Meek essay fascinating — he goes inside the postal services, including in particular the labor perspective. I learned that there may be cases where there is still a role for unions.