Communication Ethics book part for Postal Service. (This is an automatically generated summary to avoid having huge posts on this page. Click through to read this post.)
in Communication Ethics
The postal service is not often considered as an important advance in the context of intellectual property, but in communication terms it is the earliest example of a information distribution service that was capable of reliably sending a single copy of something from one single person to another single person. On a technical level, the modern Internet functions much more like a fifty-million-times-faster postal system then the more-often used metaphor of a the telephone system, so study of the postal system can potentially provide insight into the Internet as well.
Whether or not this pre-dates Gutenberg's press mostly depends on what you call the first "postal service". Ancient China had a decent one, as did Rome, but the scale and universality of the modern postal services places them in a different league entirely. The forces of technology have given postal services the ability to serve more people and allow them to send more types of things, culminating in that greatest of postal service triumphs, commercially viable junk mail.
That may sound funny, but it's serious, too. It takes an efficient system to make it worthwhile to simply send out a mailing to "Boxholder", and have any hope of it paying off economically.
We often ignore the media in which normal people can communicate with other normal people on small scales, because the large ones that we are about to look at look so much, well, larger that the postal service seems like it's not worth considering. It's an important advance, though, and has empowered a lot of political action, direct sales, even entire industries that might have otherwise never existed. And it has caused the creation of its own fair share of laws and principles. The postal service is primarily interested in the transportation of objects more then "information" per se, but laws have been developed for strictly communication-based crimes, such as using the postal service to send death threats.
The key things a postal service needs is cheap, reliable transportation and customers... lots and lots of customers. It needs to be economical to process each of these point-to-point transmissions, and this means you need to either make up the cost in scale as traditional postal services do, or charge your customers higher prices as courier services do.