Boxed In


Daniel Pink, a Washington, D.C.-based writer who works out of his home, receives his mail like millions of self-employed Americans and small-business owners: He rents a private mail box (PMB) at a local Mail Boxes Etc. Pink, the author of a forthcoming book on the rise of the independent contractor, likes the convenience of using the address of the Wisconsin Avenue store on all of his correspondence. But thanks to a new U.S. Postal Service rule, Pink will be forced to use the phrase PMB, rather than "Box," "Suite," or "#," before his box number on all correspondence starting in April 2000. That rule, he says, "symbolizes that you are not part of the legitimate economy."

Indeed, that seems to be the USPS position. Spokesman Norm Scherstrom says the policy change is necessary to protect consumers from fraud schemes that often involve private mailboxes (Scherstrom also pooh-poohs the widely held feeling that the Postal Service is trying to undercut competition for P.O. box customers). One major problem with PMBs, according to Scherstrom, is identity theft, which happens when someone obtains another person's vital information, uses the information to rent a mailbox, and then uses the address to secure credit cards.

Pink sees things differently. He claims that all PMB owners are now being treated like criminals because of the actions of "a few bad apples." He resents the expense and inconvenience of printing new stationery and the loss of a simple street address. He also sees it as an attack on new ways of making a living. Says Pink: "The USPS is a large bureaucracy imposing its will. This change delegitimizes a new way of working."