s allowed us to do things faster, more efficiently, and more professionally than ever before. Generally, every new technology is a step forward for speed and productivity. But, despite this paradigm, the coming of the latest mail communications innovation has brought many pros and cons with the package. Electronic mail could be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but there are many who find flaws in it. We are now going to take a moment to compare the speed, ease, reliability, and expense of electronic mail with our general postal system. The speed of transfer is an important part of the decision to send mail by either protocol. E-mail has a distinct advantage in this category. With the click of a button, your message will be received in a period of 5 to 30 seconds. Whether you are sending e-mail to a person across the street or in Afghanistan, the transfer rate is virtually the same. Also, data files and computer applications can be sent via e-mail; however, large files will slow upload & download time even though they are sent in seconds. Unfortunately, physical packages such as gifts or magazines cannot be attached to e-mail. On the other side of the spectrum, the postal service can send any kind of physical package, from a magazine to a pool table, for a price proportional to its size. The postal service can also transfer data if it is placed on a disk or a CD-ROM. Speed, however, is a problem. Even the smallest letter takes from two days to two weeks to deliver, depending on the locations of the sender and the receiver. Even sending a letter to the house across the street takes time due to unnecessary movement. The mail is taken to the nearest large post office, sorted there, then delivered to the post office closest to the destination, and delivered from there. In other words, mail that is sent across town sometimes has to travel out of town and back again to reach the final point.Another variable aspect of the two mail systems is ease-of-use, which can potentially be quite costly. E-mail has many disadvantages when viewed from this angle. For one thing, e-mail requires some knowledge of computer operation. Anyone who wishes to use e-mail needs to know how to use the software that it requires, and one can only send e-mail to other people with the same knowledge. Secondly, a computer with various equipment is needed. Hardware includes: motherboard with processor ($300+), hard drive ($100-$200), four megs RAM ($60), video card ($80-$200), fax modem ($50-$200), and monitor & keyboard ($200-$450). The e-mail user also has to pay a monthly fee on his e-mail internet account, generally ranging from $8 to $25 per month, whether the account is used or not. The only financial advantage to this system is that postage stamps are not required. General mail differs in that the only knowledge required is literacy, and the only equipment that is needed is an envelope ($.03) and a stamp ($.32). No monthly fee is levied on mail users, and anyone can send and receive mail. These facts show that, in terms of expense, the Postal Service has an edge on E-mail. Finally, we will review the reliability of each system. Because e-mail is run by a computer network, human error is impossible. Consequently, e-mail is always transferred to the correct address; it never is lost, stolen, and its contents are never removed. Unfortunately, since humans do operate the servers that transfer the messages, server operators have the power to read mail that is passing through. They also can copy files that are attached to messages, though the messages and files themselves are not damaged in any way. The old method of mail, on the other hand, has even more problems. First, since humans deliver the envelopes, error is not uncommon. Letters have been delivered to the wrong address on numerous occasions; checks and other items have been stolen out of packages by dishonest postal workers. In short, both e-mail and our traditional mail service are unsafe.After viewing all of the details of each system, a declaration that either protocol is better than the other would be sophomoric. Each has its pros and cons. E-mail may be faster, but it is much more expensive. Mail may be easy to use, but it is slow. Each individual must choose which system fits his needs and is most comfortable for him. The healthy competition between the two creates a better product selection for all of us.