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Your letter transitions

It occurred to me the other day how odd post boxes are. Specifically, how odd they are now. No one would invent them now.

Here’s the pitch… almost door-to-door next-day, low-cost delivery. We’ll put a special branded box in every neighbourhood… no, more than that, on nearly every street! Let’s say 100,000 of them. And they’ll be beautiful, and well-made enough to last decades. Quality. So, you want to send a letter or whatever, you just walk to your nearest box — it’ll be really close! — and drop it inside. A few times a day, well, at least once a day, an associate empties the box and your letter transitions to the next phase of its journey! From your local box to anywhere in the country the next day! We’ll have associates on bikes and on foot — very eco — and vans for longer journeys, sure, doing the last mile, delivering your letter right through the front door of the target. Right from your street, directly into a house right across the country, the very next morning! Less than 70p a go!

Crazy. But that’s declining 19th century infrastructure for you I guess. One day, the idea of this kind of mail will seem really odd. It’ll seem as weirdly excessive as the idea of having multiple daily collections and deliveries, which once allowed Victorian Londoners to exchange letters several times a day.

I assume that one day post boxes won’t be used any more. I imagine there’ll be some “rationalisation”, the numbers gradually reduced, until the point where you have to take letters to a Post Office (assuming they still exist) or one of those cornershops that serve as the hub for all kinds of infrastructural services these days. Or you’ll whistle for an Amazon drone to come and pick up your quaint paper communications package.

Another thing that will seem slightly absurd — presumably much sooner — is the idea of banks having branches. Given new banks often only have a head office and a phone app, the idea that a bank should have a grand, stone, high-ceilinged building on the high street of every town in the country is a bit odd. Several large buildings on a small town’s high street, each one a different bank. “Such bizarre extravagance!” says person-from-the-near-future. It makes me wonder either how banks ever afforded all those branches and staff, or how much money branch-less banks can presumably make. (I’m aware many people rely on these physical branches; I’m not saying these changes are good.)

Last year there were a bit more than 8500 bank branches in the UK, one for every 7700 people or so. They’re closing at a rate of up to 60 per month. If that stays steady, which it won’t, then there’ll be no bank branches in the country by 2030.

One more legacy of past centuries that wouldn’t be started now: public libraries. Imagine the government saying,

We’ll open around 4500 libraries around the country, places where people can just go in and sit, or read the newspaper, or use the internet, or look through thousands of books, all for free. And, get this, they can join, still for free, and then take a bunch of books home! Kids can join too! They can walk right out with the books! Keep them for a few weeks, then bring them back and get more! For free! Brilliant!

It is brilliant but if they didn’t already exist I can’t imagine the government that would start something like this today, even a scheme a fraction of the size.

See also: telephone land-lines to every home; the NHS; newspapers; the BBC; etc.

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