Why Aristotle would have sent postcards. Part II of II. - Istillwritecards

January 14, 2017 1 Comment

Why Aristotle would have sent postcards.
Form before content: A short essay about philosophy, postcards and babies who play with shape sorting cubes.

(Part II of II)

Philosophers gather to discuss postcards
The heated debate of postcards continues. Please chime in! Image source: Wikimedia.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. To read Part 1, please click here.

Aristotle explains communication media

In analogy, we can apply these observations to a situation where we are looking for the right medium to convey our message. Generally speaking, it appears evident that the form of our chosen medium plays a vital role: We experience every message in the context of its transmission and each form opens up unique ways of expression.
The four Aristotelian causes present themselves as a convenient method for choosing the adequate medium. Look at this example:

  • Efficient cause: That’s me, the person communicating.
  • Final cause: I would like to communicate my personal appreciation to somebody. If possible, I want her to remember my flattery for a long time.
  • Material (cause): Certain thoughts I would like to express. My benevolent feelings towards a person.
  • Form(al cause): The form I select to relate my fondness. In this case the medium of choice is the postcard.

The reasoning can easily be explained: The form could be a text message, but this would contradict two of these points since the text only provides limited space to articulate my sentiment and even more importantly, it is quickly forgotten. Either the recipient immediately deletes the text or it goes into an archive where it drowns in a sea of other electronic transmissions. First, this conflicts with my final cause: I wish to make a lasting impression. Second, there is a mismatch with the material: My thoughts won’t fit into a text message.

Both issues can be conveniently solved with a postcard: It allows for more spacious writing and the handwriting shows the receiver that I devoted an extraordinary amount of care to this card. This in turn increases the effect of my message. A postcard with a stunning picture on its front has a profound impact on the recipient’s reaction. She will naturally remember my message for some time to come and often even put up the postcard on a wall, where it will remain present in her everyday life.


It follows: Aristotle favors postcards

Aristotle’s observations provide us with the means to free ourselves from the contemporary entanglement in a web of various communication media. His emphasis on form shows that human communication is not just about conveying the bare essentials by any means - ‘the skeleton of a message’, so to speak. Rather, we are invited to consciously choose between different media, depending on the occasion. Otherwise, if we keep limiting ourselves without necessity, we are faced with a paradoxical effect: While more communication media become available, we actually use less, leading to cultural impoverishment.

All media have their place in our lives, but Aristotle politely points out that in human relations beauty, individuality and a celebration of cultural skills such as art and handwriting are of major importance. That’s what the expertly designed postcard with its enchantingly beautiful artwork stands for.

The babies you were promised, sweeping in for the grand finale. What’s the fitting form for the content of your message? Is it circular or star-shaped, text message or postcard?

So far, so good. Of course, any idea can always be illustrated even better with the involvement of babies and their handling of toys. As a small child you may have played with a shape sorter – you know, the little cube with many openings in geometric shapes into which you are supposed to fit the pieces (stars, circles, … ).

Much like the one below, only probably more three-dimensional and actually built according to the laws of physics:

Shape Sorting Cubes illustrate the need for the right form of communication

(Full disclosure about this image: A shape sorting cube. I didn't really want to bother Christine with asking her to do such a simple drawing, since she is undoubtedly working on a new masterpiece for future postcards right this instant. So I asked a toddler to take care of it. After all, toddlers can't really make copyright claims, if you know what I mean. This kind of lead to an amazing observation: You wouldn't believe how many people, who you have thought to be adults all your life, turn out to have secretly been toddlers the whole time, when you put a few colored pencils in their hand.
By the way: Should you be seeing a nose and two eyes on the front side of the cube, don't worry, it's just Pareidolia.)

Needless to say, you can attempt to force your star-shaped message of affection into a circular opening and – if the material is cheap plastic and therefore flexible enough – you might manage to squeeze it into the box. But wouldn’t it be way more elegant to stylishly put your thoughts into the fitting form of a postcard and thereby transfer them into the recipient’s head without the use of excessive force? So, why would one squeeze one’s personal message into a text like a baby that is too young to tell geometric shapes apart, when the message is tailor-made for a postcard?

Written by David Weger.
Please feel welcome to comment, if you would like to add something (or to subtract, multiply or perform any other mathematical and non-mathematical feats).


1 Response

David Weger (Writer for Istillwritecards)
David Weger (Writer for Istillwritecards)

January 14, 2017

The kid, being so young, probably didn’t fully understand me when I asked him to draw a cube. Thus this somewhat imperfect and skewed creation came into being. You see: Appropriate communication matters! I should have sent the little bugger a postcard, I dare say!

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