Technology: A Faster Sort of Mail

U.S. mail hurtles along its appointed rounds in swift trucks, trains and planes. As soon as it hits a post office, though, the mail creeps through the hands of human sorters who faced 72 billion pieces of mail last year. To speed up sorting, the Post Office Department is pinning its hopes on a new electronic gadget: an optical scanner that reads machine-printed addresses and sorts mail 15 times faster than the most efficient postal clerk. Introduction of the device, says Postmaster General Larry O'Brien, "is as much an historical event as the issuance of the first U.S. stamp in 1847...

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