"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," but the Internet could put mail carriers out of business.
Recently, New Zealand announced that it will launch a digital online postal service to augment its paper service. The paperless service uses Zumbox, a platform created by a California-based company that generates a digital mailbox for every street address in the country. No postage. No paper. It's free to all except marketers and advertisers.
The United States Postal Service in February told its Mailers Technical Advisory Committee partners that it was looking into new areas like digital mail services. And no wonder: U.S. first-class mail declined 19 percent since 2001 and will decline an additional 37 percent over the next decade, according to the government's General Accounting Office.
A GAO report advised the USPS to learn from foreign postal services that have adopted digital technology. Digital services might include an electronic postmark system as a kind of certified email service, a secure digital mailbox service and an electronic bill payment system, according to the USPS.
Zumbox and similar services are poised to win what would be the largest mail service order in the world. Half of the world's mail is in the USPS with service to 120 million American households.
Test drive paperless
Meanwhile, Zumbox is available at no charge to individuals. Zumbox is the first paperless post service adopted by governments and the only service that verifies customers based on a physical address.
A 2010 Zumbox survey showed that 77 percent of consumers would use a digital post network if it were available. Respondents estimated they would opt out of about 59 percent of the mail they currently receive. And, 41 percent reported they would opt for paperless for more than 80 percent of their mail.
The beauty of the Zumbox service is that once you register and verify your street address, the service automatically pulls your account information from participating providers including major utilities, banks, airlines and credit card companies -- companies who already send you mail -- and generates a digital copy of what is sent and delivers it to your new digital mailbox.
If you already use online bill pay, Zumbox can incorporate those providers as well in your digital mailbox. Consolidation means you only have to visit one site with one password. And, you can still receive paper bills until you feel comfortable with the digital system.
Zumbox also stores electronic copies of your mail along with any important documents you care to upload to the service for free and forever, taking the place of bankers' boxes stacked in the garage and file drawers overflowing in the home.
No more junk mail
Best of all, a digital post office could signal the end of junk mail. Only companies that have been explicitly approved by Zumbox can send mail through the Zumbox system. There is no junk mail in Zumbox.
At some point in the future, marketers will be able to apply to send promotions and special offers to consumers who wish to receive them via Zumbox.
"The key is consumer preferences," John Payne, CEO of Zumbox, said. "Those people who 'like' marketing mail will see it and be in complete control of how it is presented, and those who don't 'like' it will not see it at all."
Zumbox uses the same levels of physical and encryption security as banks do to protect your mail. The service is monitored and verified by TRUSTe and VeriSign.
Further, Zumbox does not use email addresses to deliver digital postal mail, Payne explained. Email is an open system that operates "in the wild" on the Internet. Digital postal mail is delivered via a secure, closed system that utilizes a verified street address to identify and deliver mail to users.
Zumbox offers a mobile version of its service for access from any Internet-connected cellphone.
Reduce junk today
Paperless mail may eliminate the need for mailboxes across America in the future, but in the meantime, there are some things you can do to reduce the inevitable stack of junk mail that arrives every day:
The Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. When you register with this service, your name will be put on a "delete" file and made available to direct-mail marketers and organizations. This will reduce most of your unsolicited mail, according to the Federal Trade Commission. To register with DMA's Mail Preference Service, go to www.dmachoice.org.
Take preventative action, avoid sweepstakes entries, be wary of product warranty cards that don't require a proof of purchase or receipt and pass up unnecessary in-store rewards cards.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? E-mail Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.