Do people still send postcards these days…?
I’ve always been interested in the way we communicate and how we interact with each other. Handwriting – whether it’s a postcard, a letter or a mark carved into stone or the bark of a tree – is the most enduring, permanent record of human interaction. Only speech is more direct, though lost in the air between us at the moment of expression. Whilst archives are now attempting to retain electronic communications, emails, Tweets and webchatter, the rhythmic dance of pen on paper will always hold more insight into the writer than a spell-checked email; the words set down without the safety-net of the delete button hold an honesty and a permanence, all but lost.
The postcard is the 20th century’s most societal invention (I know, it was invented in the 1800s but really came into it’s own after the turn of the century). It was an affordable, easily accessible and classless medium through which you could send your best wishes, instructions, gossip, greetings, status updates… or just leave it blank and let the picture do the talking. Postcard messages are often less considered than letters, more adhoc and spontaneous, despite their being uncensored and unencumbered by an envelope, and the restrictions on space elicit an informality from the sender which is stifled by the strictures of formal letter writing.
I’ve been intrigued by the place of the postcard in the 21st century and whilst they still cling to their plastic display racks in tourist hotspots, occasionally sending greetings back home, there are less and less of them dropping through letterboxes. Sites like Postcrossing are keeping the nostalgics happy (myself included), however, I’ve always thought the postcards I receive via that site, whilst always interesting, are rigidly conforming to a template – the spontaneity is forced and the messages, prosaic. Not all, I hasten to add.
In April 2015 I decided I wanted to see if the medium can exist alongside the constant steam of Tweets, blogs and social media updates. I’m no Luddite and I actively use social media every day, indeed, it was through Twitter that I engaged with someone who has become my most prolific postcard correspondent: I’d been following Ben for a couple of years; I can’t recall exactly how my feed crossed his feed, but I remember being enthralled by a story he was telling, 140 characters at a time. It may very well have been the tale that ended with this:
I have no idea what the story was now (but that punchline is still perfect)… but I remember thinking, ‘I like this guy. He has a way with words and is a consummate yarn-spinner.’ Over the next couple of years I’d happen upon his tales in my timeline, often everyday situations which Ben elevated to more-than-mundane, from working in Tesco to getting the bus home. In early 2015 he started to Tweet about travelling the world and I had no doubt he would do so (I feel I should point out that I didn’t read his every Tweet, or even check his movements regularly… he’s such prolific poster his words would find their way onto my timeline with such regularity I was bound to see something, whether I was looking or not. A cyberstalker I am not). I decided to invade his life-changing trip around the world and impose myself upon him, deltiologically speaking. I asked him if he’d write to me, using postcards as a journal, alongside his blog, Facebook and Twitter. Nine months and 34 postcards later I feel a privilege that he let me be a part of his journey.
I knew that Ben’s writing would be honest and engaging, but I hadn’t expected it to be so unselfish, so open, so unguarded. I’d intended to post images of the postcards here, write a little about them and wait for the next but I’ve been genuinely moved by reading Ben’s insightful view of his world. Some of the postcards are introspective, so personal that I’ve decided not to share them in full here, others are brilliantly witty, others still are inspiring. I have had a difficult 2015, a year in which I made some rash, life-changing decisions (call it a midlife crisis, because that’s what it is!) but, without exaggeration, a postcard from Ben has landed and put things in perspective. It’s a remarkable skill, this honesty of his, the lack of self-consciousness and trust in putting his thoughts down on the back of a postcard and sending it to a complete stranger that makes each one so revelatory. I have neglected him of late – I’d made a promise to reimburse him financially for the cost of stamps etc. and my recent circumstances have made that less possible than when we began – but I miss the postcards, so it’s a small price worth paying for enlightenment and entertainment… and it’s not all philosophical, some of it is practical, some laugh-out-loud funny.
So far I have 34 postcards, from Thailand, Australia, Canada and France. The first two, sent from a hostel in Bangkok have never arrived – since that inauspicious start they have built into a treasure, a journal of a man’s travails and trifles; young man’s guide to being alive in 2015. I don’t know if we will ever meet each other; I don’t know if I mind if we don’t. The surreality of being simultaneously connected and discrete from a stranger is a unique experience.
Ben’s adventures continue on his blog at www.benjamingregor.com, and on Twitter. I, however, have the trump (post)cards, his story writ by his hand, his pen dancing across the whitespace, indelible and incorruptible.
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