As the US Postal Service once again tries to chart its future in an ever-changing market, let’s see how a previous Postmaster General envisioned the future of the USPS:
Jan. 26, 2010 – Timothy Jackson looked out the window of his home in western New York and decided the blizzard would force him to stay home. He knew, however, he had to finalize and mail a proposal to a key client.
Thus begins Marvin Runyon’s brief 1995 essay in Insight Magazine describing what the US Postal Service would look like in 2010. I’m sure Runyon hoped his piece would show what a forward looking, innovative organization he had turned the USPS into. Unfortunately, it served instead to show how out of touch he was with the changes that were already taking place:
With a few additional keystrokes, he electronically accessed his business post office. He had 37 pieces of hard-copy mail in the post-office box. A quick electronic scan identified six as reply envelopes that typically brought him remittances; another three were hard copies of E-mail his staff had sent the day before.
I’m not exactly sure why you would have your staff mail hard copies of emails to you, but I suspect Runyon was the kind of old-school executive who never actually used a computer, but had his secretary print out emails for him to read- so it probably made sense to him.
Runyon then goes on to give an odd description of how his imaginary 2010 customer’s computer would communicate with him:
His computer winked and chirped, and he saw exactly what and how to get his message into the postal system. He printed the screen and jotted down the name and digicell phone number of a post-office representative in case he should have any questions or need technical assistance. His confidence and comfort level were high as he turned back to the spreadsheets and qualifying forms.
Winking and chirping aside, Insight readers were quick to point out that the services and technologies Runyon promised for 2010 were already available to anyone with an Internet connection. One wrote:
I won’t need the help of the Postal Service in 2010 to do what I already can do today.
Another wrote that Runyon “simply confirmed how out of touch government bureaucrats can be”. (While true, it seems that the writer was unaware of Runyon’s history as a successful auto industry executive, who had previously been brought in to reform the Tennessee Valley Authority by none other than Ronald Reagan!)
Some of Runyon’s other predictions have failed to materialize- “Post-office lines will be a thing of the past”, and “Consumers… will access their local post office electronically and even determine when their letter carrier will bring the mail.”
In fact, there’s really only one innovation predicted by Runyon that has come true.
Let’s hope the current crew at L’Enfant Plaza are better fortune tellers than Carvin’ Marvin was…