Going Postal

A funny new project by Giles Turnbull who along with a few friends decided to send their Twitter posts as postcards instead of electronically. It gives a renewed vitality to the word “post.”

One of the most basic things it shows is just how expensive printed communication is by comparison. There really is a remarkable cost savings to electronic communication, though this is amply made up for in the hidden costs of too much communication, all that time spent sifting through it.

On the positive side, writing your twitter posts by hand ends the mass-effect of communicating with everyone at once and turns it back into one-to-one correspondence. Goethe once wrote that every poem was written for someone and I’ve often wondered whether the addresslessness of twitter is not a way of losing a sense of purpose when we write.

As Turnbull points out another neat feature of this sense of address is the way it also makes the arrival of the postman/woman exciting again. It rehumanizes delivery by making the bearer of the message important as opposed to just a vessel of bills and junk. I think there are social losses that take place when the individuals who perform tasks in our lives are increasingly less individualized.

There is also a sweet moment where Turnbull says that he doesn’t need to mail his cards to his wife, so he tucks them under her pillow.

What all this really reminds me of is the significance of asynchrony to communication, the way having multiple different channels — and speeds — is really important to how we communicate with each other. Revitalizing the postal service, which in many countries is undergoing a profound crisis as an institution, is a way of revitalizing the metabolism of communication beyond the default setting of immediacy.

I know they’re probably going to completely reject this idea, but when my kids are old enough to write home, I’m going to insist (beg, cajole) that they write letters and postcards and not just call or email. I want us to think more about the time of communication and not just its nowness.

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