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Me-mail

I hate moving, so the Universe has kindly arranged that I must do it around once per year. Despite having pared my possessions down to a begging bowl, loin cloth, and several thousand books, it is still a royal pain. But the worst aspect of it is that you have to redirect your physical mail. This leads me to Another Modest Solution.

These days, physical mail is addressed, sorted and often delivered to the local post office by computer. So why can’t I have, like I have a general domain name for my email which costs me $30 for three years, a personal virtual address? I call it the PAD (personal address). It would work like this:

Mail would be sent to “PAD John S. Wilkins”, or some other unique identifier, a bit like a Post Office Box, but not localised. The Post Department in the relevant country (Australia Post in my country) would read this, and assign the current physical address on the fly. If I move, within Australia or overseas, any mail sent to my PAD would be immediately redirected to the new locale.

The Post Department would get a fee for this, and would no doubt save on redirected mail costs from defunct addresses.

All I ask is that if you use any of these (copyrighted, all rights reserved) ideas, I get 0.01% of all gross fees.

5 Comments

  1. This is a really good idea. Unfortunately, as snail-mail becomes less and less common this will have less incentive for this to work. The real ideal time for this idea would have been a few years ago since it is only in very recent times that a lot of people have moved frequently. If one had proposed this idea in say 1970 or so it would have probably been a lot more helpful. Of course, the idea is an idea that gets its inspiration from a technology that barely existed in 1970 (and didn’t exist in the relevant form AFAICT) so maybe get a time machine?

    • John S Wilkins John S Wilkins

      With the rise in online buying, it may be premature to (forgive me) write mail off just yet.

  2. DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

    Over here in the UK it was suggested that everyone have their own telephone number for life (indeed you could sign up for ‘personal numbers’ at one point). And with IPV6 everyone could have their own URL.

    But one of the upsides of moving is that you can choose to leave unwanted possessions or relationships behind. So I propose an additional service, Not-Me-Mail where letters addressed to your unique identifier go straight to compost or land-fill.

  3. Jonathan Jonathan

    John, you are a philosopher with no experience with logistics. So don’t take it personally when I say that’s a stupid idea. Let me give you a brief explanation of why.

    I don’t know how addresses work in Australia, but in the US the machines are setup to sort the mail first by whether the mail is local or non-local. Local sorts are much shorter and more efficient than non-local sorts. Let’s use non-local as an example so we can trace the full process. After non-local mail is sorted out, it is sorted based on region. Once the letter is shipped to the proper regional distribution center, it is sorted based on the city/county. After being shipped again, it is sorted by ZIP code. After reaching the neighborhood distribution center, it is sorted by block/route and bundled for the carrier who will take it to you.

    At every step in this process the mail is sorted by geographic location. Each machine has a simple database that associates specific ZIP codes with a specific routing path. In most cases, the entire ZIP code isn’t even read. Only a few of the numbers need to be referenced for the next routing path.

    Each search of the database takes approximately .002 seconds to accomplish. This means a sorting machine can sort ~500 letters a second. In order for the system to route mail to you and not your geographical location, it would require a larger database. That larger database takes about five milliseconds longer to search. That decreases the sorting rate to ~140 letters per second. So now you need about four times more sorting capacity for the same volume of mail. But that’s not your only problem. Because you don’t know where the mail is going until you’ve checked it against the entire database, every piece of mail now has to be sorted with the more resource intensive non-local sort.

    It just takes too many resources to sort mail based on individuals instead of geographic locations. It would require a massive increase in infrastructure; it would require slower sorting speeds; and it would require a the use of less efficient sorting methods.

    Now let me give you a counter-factual to this. What if you shipped a much more massive amount of mail? Would it then be more efficient to give you a personal sorting address? Yes, it would be. Think of your major shippers, like Amazon.com or, the largest mail shipper in the history of the world, Netflix (it’s volume has come down since streaming video has picked up but at its peak it accounted for about half of all mail traffic the USPS handled). They have their own ZIP codes. They also have their own sorting facilities to pre-sort the mail for the USPS in return for a rebate. If you were to pay the Amount Netflix does for this privilege, I’m sure the Australian postal service would be more than obliged to give you your own personal, permanent address.

    • It’s amazing how much you know about me. My thirty years of departmental, computer and systems management before I became a philosopher is obviously irrelevant.

      It is also amazing how when postal services manage to redirect mail already without it collapsing the system that you know this would somehow bring these systems to their knees. How, I wonder, can they redirect my mail at all? Impossible!

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