Sticking a stamp to the front of an envelope could become so last century, if a logical plan in Europe ends up spreading as far as it could. Danish letter mailers, beginning April 1st, will be able to send an SMS to that nation’s Postal Service and receive a short code back, confirming that they have paid to mail a letter. They’ll write that code on the envelope and then the post office machines will scan that, instead of a stamp. Sweden says it’s working on a similar system.
It makes a lot of sense, presuming of course that people continue to mail letters on paper at all. It’s also a little sad. Of course such news likely represents just one more move towards the eventual collapse of many different types of transactions into an act of mobile e-commerce based on a strong relationship between a phone owner, their mobile carrier and a third party in any type of transaction.
Phones are trusted commerce platforms, they enable multiple forms of authentication (including location verification) and they go everywhere with us. They’re more intimate than wallets, at least as associated with status as handbags – who needs stamps when you’ve got such a magical device in your pocket?
On the Loss of Stamps
According to Wikipedia, adhesive stamps are only about 170 years old. (The first one, the UK’s Penny Black, is pictured above.) Hardly something to get too misty-eyed about, right?
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That entry says they were invented in large part so that the sender could be the one who paid to mail something. Prior to the invention of stamps, the recipient was expected to pay for the mail. Sometimes they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for it. Sometimes the sender would send big, bulky packages because hey, they weren’t paying for it.
So stamps came on the scene out of clear need. They probably aren’t needed anymore, though.
Might they be worth keeping anyway, just for the art of them? Some countries around the world are experimenting with stamps turned into QR codes for Augmented Reality. That’s cool but I wouldn’t put my money on QR/AR postal stamps sticking around.
It seems unlikely to me that in ten or twenty more years, functional postal stamps will still be printed in large quantity at all. SMS as a replacement just makes too much sense. Build that collection while it’s still cheap, I suppose. I like stamps and am a little saddened by the prospect of their obsolescence.