Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The power of postcards

Never underestimate an intimate gesture. How often in your life has it been something seemingly small that has had the most powerful emotional impact? We all have our own stories. The hand on your shoulder when you needed a human touch; the letter that expressed what matters most at just the right moment; the invitation to a family gathering when you were feeling despondent and alone. And I’d add the postcard that turns up in the mail and simply says “I was thinking of you”. In today’s digital world of email and texting there are a lot of ways we can connect with friends and family, but the traditional postcard seems to be holding its own and indeed experiencing something of a revival.

The Guardian notes that in the UK, 135 million postcards were delivered in 2006, 30 million more than in 2003. Why is a nineteenth century idea like the postcard thriving in the twenty-first century? Yes, it’s certainly Intimacy, plus I think a brilliant helping of Mystery and Sensuality. Specifics? The Mystery of trying to work out who the postcard is from. A signature scrawled across the printed caption is often impossible to decipher. The Sensuality of a stunning image selected with you and your taste in mind, and the Intimacy of a handwritten message. I make a point of handwriting comments on as much of my mail as I can for the same reason. My Montblanc fountain pen is one of my Lovemarks and I believe its inked messages have far deeper resonance than the many emails I send. There’s the surprise of handwriting in our increasingly digital world, but there is something direct and personal in this special connection between writer and reader – hand to heart.

If you want a great example of all this, get hold of a copy of Postcards from the Boys by Ringo Starr, who collected over 100 postcards sent to him by John, Paul and George over the years. In this collection of 53 cards there is one from John in Japan meeting Yoko’s parents, and rather poignantly from Hollywood, with the message, “Who would have thought it would come to this? Love John.”

In a world of dumb mass mail-outs, there is a lot to be learnt from the postcard. And I mean more than putting some fake ‘personalized’ Post-it note on the top of an article. Intimacy is something you can’t fake. People take it personally or they don’t. There’s no half-way house. You have to reach out and trust your intuition about what will be welcome.


Kate said...

I think a key to the amazing power of the Post Secret programme is that the secrets are on home made postcards.

On a personal note, I grew up in a different country to my father. He sent me many, many postcards over the years - from business trips and holidays. (I still have them.) They were the tangible proof the teenage me needed to show he was always thinking of his little girl.

Anonymous said...

Postcards....it reminds me of a bundle of approx 40 held together with an elastic band, sitting on my bookshelf wrapped in tissue paper and only brought out only with my supervision. They are from an “ex”, and I know people are sentimental and private about this type of thing, but these postcards are quite unique, and far more precious.

The postcards came from a friend who was disgruntled with a cushy corporate high paying job, and decided there was more to life, and well Australia. Being a native Scotsman, and having never driven a 4wd or camped in his life, the short of the story - he decided to buy a 4wd and camping equipment and travel around Australia.

He took almost a year to complete his trip and engrain himself into Australian culture. He even picked up a Swedish backpacker and traveled with her down the entire West coast of Australia – how Australian is that! I digress….

So we had this thing (before the Swedish backpacker), where I asked him to send me the most antiquated postcards wherever he could find them. Lucky for us, they are easy to come by. Each postcard usually had a circa 60’s photography with accompanying copy indicative of that era. My friend only wrote a maximum of a few sentences describing his experience within each town.

These postcards came to my work, so the receptionists used to get (read) them before I did. Quite soon, I was eagerly awaiting the next installment of his travels. As it turned out, so did the rest of the company who quickly picked up on the postcards from the receptionists. I would often get comments on how funny the latest postcard was before I’d received it.

For example, there is one postcard from Bourke, it’s got the image of a man and his dog sitting in the back of his ute, looking out over the a paddock. The accompanying copy on the postcard crediting the photography, is: “In the early morning, the grassy rich fertile plains of Bourke come alive”. My friend wrote on this postcard “A man, a dog and his ute”. Love A.x.

Granted my friend has a great sense of humour, but throughout his travels the postcards remained disenfranchised from group travel email tales, travel blogs, facebook travel photo & updates and became something that I genuinely looked forward too. Something that was (seemingly) private (before they became a cult amongst the rest of the company), for in a few short sentences, I knew he'd sought the time to seek out each postcard and immerse himself into the town, and find a rich tale to tell in a few short words. It wasn't languished in interfaces that invited all to view your experiences (eventually everyone did see them!), download, blog, share with a friend etc...

Then it happened…he fell in love. The postcard came from somewhere in the middle of the Australian desert. It was a modern postcard with a landscape view of our amazing outback Australia at sunset. The card said “I’ve fallen in love, it’s with your country, and it’s with the desert.”. I did think for a moment, he had hooked up with a band of hippies and was on the free love weed. But no, he’d really fallen hard for our amazing country (the Swedish backpacker didn’t even get a look in, it was the ABBA tapes she kept requesting to play).

This love came from the time….the time to discover and immerse yourself in something and then share it in a few words on a medium long forgotten.

Someone once said: “A picture is worth a thousand words”- based on an idea that complex stories can be described with just a single still image, or that an image may be more influential than a substantial amount of text.

Long live postcards.

Lana said...

Dear Kevin,
I have been reading your blog (on and off) for a long time now. In the beginning I did not know what a blog was...now I have my own (it is in Spanish...sorry).

As somebody who dedicated almost 20 years of her life to the business of communication (I was a TV anchor woman), I could not agree more.

Postcards, letters ( yes, good old hand written letters) have a different meaning.

My daughter Nicole barely reads anything -that I consider important or interesting- that I send her via e-mail. However, she cherishes the few letters that I have written to her over the years, telling her how proud she makes me.

She also keeps all the postcards that her uncle sends her from Australia where he lives. We live in Miami.

Nowadays it's so easy to tell somebody on the other side of the world: hey! Happy Birthday. That would bring a half smile to that person, together with all the other B-day related e-mails of the day.
But the one in the mailbox...that one will be the only one kept...at least until the next moving!

Keep it up, Kevin.
Lana Montalban Carpman

JonnyRea said...

Thanks for this blog - it inspired me to launch www.picsy.com and in a matter of days I've sent out nearly 500 postcards - looks like the idea is going viral which just goes to show that in a world of text messaging and email, Kevin is (again) spot on! If it becomes really big I'll have Kevin to thank...

Kempton said...

Reading this entry, I have to mention my friend Chris' short film "Postmark" (YouTube video included).

I hope you and your readers will enjoy it as much as I did. I surely did.

Kevin Roberts said...

And long live storytelling! That stack of postcards is a novel in brief but potent installments. Beautiful.