I need to give it up to the USPS: They are way beyond the rest of the world in technology.
They had automated postage machines when I was a kid, too. I actually saw my dad try to use them a few times.
In each case it ended in frustration and near-rage. He lost his money (they offered to send him a refund at some later date after “review”) and he had to wait in line to mail his package or letter anyway. Also, the machines didn’t make change, so if you happened to only have a fiver you were out one-eighty for a book of ten stamps back then. Thus, early on I learned to ignore whatever machinery was in the lobby of the post office. It’s there as part of some government contract, and it preys only on the occasional fool or keeps the homeless people sightly warmer in winter.
But things change — Moore’s law and all that. Everywhere but the post office. No, see … the post office has either found a way to make time stand still, or to bring all the frustrations of 1970’s technology present to us today in real-time.
As I stood in line today at the office near me just to mail a priority envelope, an employee approached and asked if all I was doing was mailing a package. Yes. Did I have debit or credit? Yes. She could help me out in the lobby. Great!
Of course, I could have printed my own postage from home — I guess. I had other things to mail and I’m out of printer ink. Again. So I relied on my friendly neighborhood USPS location.
So we approach the machine and she handles the transaction, walking through the semi-dazzling (for 1995) displays. She enters all the relevant info. She has me run my credit card. I’m watching and thinking that wow, things really have improved at the USPS! I’ll have to use this machine on my own next time!
Then she hits the “Print Postage” button.
We wait. Nothing happens.
I have a feeling that the dazzling screens were just a front-end interface calling back to the machines from the 1970’s, and they weren’t answering. Buffer overflow. $5.60 for a flat-rate priority stamp didn’t make sense to it or something.
Fortunately, there was a human there to help out. With an “I got this. You can go,” the lady took the envelope to the backroom, supposedly there to lick a stamp and manually affix it to the envelope.
The USPS can make time stand still!