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What is the use of a PO.Box in the digital age?

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jun 15,2018 - Last updated at Jun 15,2018

Until the end of last year, and except for this dear cousin of mine who insisted on sending season greetings on otherwise beautiful printed postcards from the USA, and for the income tax department who would send various written, registered notifications and reminders, I had not received any important mail in my rented, physical post office box.

Bills, bank statements, personal and business correspondence, even advertising and promotional brochures, there is absolutely none of these that has not been converted to digital and that now comes to us via e-mail, as push-notifications on our smartphones, or that we treat and process online. As of this year, even the tax department, just like the other government institutions and services, they all are doing it electronically and online.

So why then a PO.Box? Is there still any use for it in the digital age?

Though I still have one, I stopped mentioning it on my business cards, my business correspondence letterhead, and in the signature contact details at the bottom of the e-mails I send. I just mention my e-mail address and my mobile phone number. This is how people reach you today, this is all the contact details you need: an email address and a mobile number.

When many years ago I first tried to rent a PO.Box in Amman, I almost had to beg the post office manager to get one. Recently I asked the staff at my post office centre in Dahyat Al Hussein how the situation was, in general. I was told that there were now plenty of available boxes to rent, that many people simply are not renewing their annual subscription and instead are giving up their box. This despite the very reasonable JD11 annual rent for a regular box.

Perhaps another exception to the fully-digital rule is the parcels service of the Jordan Post Company. Naturally parcels still cannot be digitised or e-mailed! You have to take delivery of them physically, whatever their contents. Whenever you receive a parcel through the Jordan Post service, they would mail you a printed notification to your PO.Box so that you can take it, go to the parcels bureau, and then claim your parcel.

However, this parcel service has been greatly challenged by all the private express courier services such as DHL, Aramex, UPS, TNT, FedEx, NEDCO and the like, and for many years now. Consequently the volume of parcel handling at the Jordan Post has significantly diminished. Understandably all these private services use digital methods to contact senders and recipients, and parcels usually are delivered to your door.

In addition to the fact that a traditional PO.Box system is in flagrant contradiction — violation should I say — with the push towards a paperless world, going physically to the post office to check incoming mail also is against the trend to avoid as much as possible transportation and driving, to decongest traffic and to save precious time that can be put to better use.

It is reasonable to assume that those in charge of the PO.Box system are doing serious thinking and are re-considering the entire concept. Not that the system is harmful of course, but it is rather a waste of human and financial resources that can reallocated to do something else, something more in line with the connected, digital world we are living in. I would not be surprised to see PO.Boxes abandoned for good in a maximum of five years from now.

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