This is Part 3 of a three-part series. To read Part 2, please click here.
Including spam and automatically generated confirmation messages, a few hundred billion e-mails are being sent every day. Especially in private exchanges, most of them utilize the most basic design: white background, black letters in a standard font. Kind of the equivalent to the minimalist Dublin bedroom with its plain walls.
This simplicity partly accounts for why the e-mail is such a widely-used medium that can be read and sent with a range of different programs and devices. It is in the nature of digitization to free ‘content’ from all ‘form’ and thereby render it transmissible. You can easily visualize this idea with the help of the two rooms I described in part 1:
The barren Dublin room is ready made to be packed in a travel bag and to be reconstructed anywhere in the world. But this only works because, in a way, it is not a ‘real’ room at all. A ‘real’ room, like the one in Vienna, is an organic part of your life: On the bedside table there is a Polaroid my brother shot on a joint trip to the countryside. Next to it: the book that keeps my mind occupied these days and the postcard with anecdotes of an old girlfriend. Over there: the vinyl record I dug up in a thrift shop (singing: “what, what?!”) last Friday and the cotton ball string lights I purchased while drinking punch at the Christmas market.
All of these objects hold precious memories for me and they have their own sentimental meanings that make them irreplaceable. I can attach personal associations to them. Thereby my surroundings become an ‘extension’ of myself and my way of life.
In comparison, the Dublin room is only a bare-bones structure that doesn’t ‘live’ or evolve with time. To be honest, part of why the apartment was furnished with so little passion was that I expected to move out again soon. However, because of this mindset I will never reminisce nostalgically, and I’ll certainly never say, “Oh, how exquisite this sterile bedroom felt! If only I could go back to these lodgings.” Really, it never existed in the first place: It is only a copy of a billion other identical rooms.
Now, this notion also applies to communication: E-mails can be read at almost any time and place. The majority of your private e-mails look exactly the same as billions of other messages that are being delivered on a daily basis. They are mass-market products and as such they tend to quickly vanish into monochrome uniformity without leaving any lasting impression.
Postcards, on the contrary, are prized possessions and the results of a fulfilling activity that you immerse yourself in. They are a sentimental affair and have a physical presence in the lives of sender and receiver. Ideally, you choose with care between the available motifs of our cards because they are commonly used for decoration or even dug out years later for some melancholic reading. Postcards are the embodiment of a rich life lived with creativity and dedication, by a person who loves and treasures the little things.
Despite all my efforts to express this verbally, you can probably understand it best, and at first glance, when it is shown to you visually. Here is the limited design of one of our postcards. It is a selection from the lifework of the painter Christine Eder. An individual human life has been devoted to artistic work and this picture is the result. The motif sets a mood that is just waiting to be enriched by your distinctive handwriting and your personal thoughts.
And this is the standardized layout of an e-mail that can be reproduced ad infinitum:
Yep, there is only white, sterile void.
(Ok – you might think that I have stretched the facts a bit and that it would be more accurate to compare this void with the back of a card, which is also a white surface. However: Since we are concerned with the analog – real objects - the back and front of a postcard can’t be separated from each other.)
So, yeah: postcard 1 vs. e-mail 0. Win by default, since the e-mail is a no-show. Clap, clap, hurray. But wait: This talk of ones and zeros sounds suspiciously like the binary logic of digital media! You know: 01001000 01101001. It seems the e-mail can't be beaten by winning against it. At the same time, the e-mail can't compete with the postcard either. So let's make peace and embrace them both:
In the end, it is up to you to find a balance that feels right. You are welcome to communicate only through postcards from now on and to buy so many of them that you and all your friends can cover your apartments with them – quite like the time when Christo wrapped the Reichstag. But perhaps you find this a little bit too extreme…
In any case, nowadays a lot of people seem to aim for a healthy coexistence of different media. Postcards and e-mails can complement each other, just like vinyl records will live on next to music streaming.
Even if you are a minimalist-minded person and are wary of too much stuff, postcards will appeal to you: As delicate paintings they are light as a feather and very flexible. Hang them on your wall and rejoice in them. When you have had enough, take the cards down or send them on to somebody else, allowing him to take delight in the art.
Digitization is comfortable, but for each of us it holds the danger of turning into a person whose life centers around dully staring at the tiny screen of their smartphone while swiping and swiping and swiping through content like a modern day assembly line worker. Luckily, there is an easy escape from this dire fate because – despite the countless benefits that go with it - writing a postcard is really simple. The card promises a good life for you and its recipient. It delights, caters to your senses and it is more than just an object – it is an event.
At its heart, the postcard stands for coziness as well as for adventure. Born in an analog world, it is a medium of manifold passions and magic rituals. It is a papery ticket to a universe brimming with sensory pleasures. The postcard knows this wide and exciting world better than any other medium because it is a traveler by nature. Relish its joys and invite others to join you by sending your cards on their adventurous journeys.
As the writer Robert Louis Stevenson said: “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” No medium understands this quite like the artistic and travel hungry postcard.
I, for one, shall bid you adieu for now, as I will close my laptop’s lid and write a card. I intend to tell Christine how happy it made me when we sat down for lunch last week and she told me that she is in her studio every single day, painting and creating. I want to say how marvellous it was to see her fingers covered in colorful paint residue. An electronic message just wouldn’t feel right for this. So I’ll grab a pen. Hmm, I wonder which motif would gladden her heart?
- Finis -