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.