This makes me a little sad – Western Union is no longer providing telegram delivery services. In the era of mobile phones and email, telegrams are more than a little old-fashioned and I suspect very few people will miss their disappearance.
Despite the fact that I’ve been using email since 1989, I’m one of Western Union’s few remaining telegram customers. For the last couple of years, Western Union has offered a web-based telegram service – fill in a form online, enter a credit card number and your telegram’s delivered within a day. I use telegrams to get concerns to senators and congresspeople – a congressman might get hundreds of paper letters and thousands of emails a day, but not many telegrams, which get hand delivered to congressional offices. Because they’re not cheap – about $20 – it’s also a way of letting politicians know you care sufficiently about an issue that you’re willing to spend money. (American Telegram offers a service specifically to deliver telegrams to politicians, but it’s signifcantly more expensive. Perhaps I’ll just send flowers in the future.)
For decades, Western Union has made money sending a different kind of information through the wires – financial transfers, which now represent the vast majority of their income. Unfortunately, they tend to charge extortionate rates to workers who are sending small amounts of money back to their families in developing nations. I have high hopes that some technological innovation will make expensive remittance services look as primitive in the near future as telegrams do in an Internet era.