Postcards

“The postcard is one of the best medium of communication.”

This was one of the many wise words that came from a friend when we were out hunting for nice looking postcards. According to him, he sends postcards to several friends on a regular basis, even though he speaks to some of them on a regular basis.

I was quite surprised when I heard that line. It’s something that one doesn’t hear very often (unless you are surrounded by people who think that way), and it’s something that doesn’t really cross one’s mind.

But I think, there is truth to what he has said. I’ve been thinking about this for days, and I think I’ve come to see the point. (In fact, I’ve decided I’ll practice this.)

Sure, we have a myriad of ways to communicate with friends, be it electronic, over the phone, or even face to face. But there is something magical about the written word. When the “delete” or “backspace” button is not made available to us, we find ourselves forced to carefully think through what it is that we want to say, before finalising it into writing.

I remember how one professor commented that since the days of computers, people have lost a great deal of mental clarity. Seriously, the “delete” and “backspace” buttons on the keyboard are bad for our minds. Often, when we type something (either on the phone or on the computer), we don’t give that much thought to our words. I know it happens a lot to me (even as I write this) and to many (almost all) of my friends. Whether it is a blog post or an essay, more often than not, we write something – a word, a phrase, or even a paragraph – look back at it, and with feelings of discontent, highlight the undesired portion, and press “delete.” The words are gone. And, again and again, we repeat that same process of simply typing words and deleting them until we get something that we are satisfied with.

According to my professor, in the days before the computer, people would spend days thinking about what exactly to write. With the final version of what would appear on paper focused in their minds, they would proceed to type it out on the typewriter or write it on paper, rarely ever having to cancel out a whole sentence or paragraph. That’s an ability which many of us have lost. While it is true that we can achieve the same communicative effect whether or not it is paper or electronic, the point is that in the written/type-written paper form, the amount of thought that goes through what needs to be said far exceeds the amount of thought we put in when typing on a computer.

I think the same problem can also be said about the spoken word. Sure, we may be cautious about our words, but because we’re in a conversation with someone, we don’t have the luxury of time to put in a lot thought into what it is that we want to say. I’m sure many of us can relate to this – in a moment of passion, we suddenly find ourselves saying something only to regret it later.

But with the written form – handwritten or type-written – the message sits in our minds, incubating until we are ready to commit it into ink. This gives us the luxury of time to slowly craft the message like a sculpture, refining it over and over, ensuring that it conveys what we truly want to say, and then adorning it with elegance and beauty.

But why a postcard? Why not something else? I think the only reason that makes the postcard so special is that the card limits just how much can be said. The card prevents verbal diarrhea and long-winded ramblings. It forces us to think twice or thrice about what we want to say. It prevents us from saying the unnecessary, and to write only the things that matter.

In this way, communicating with someone through a postcard isn’t just mere communication. It’s not merely the passing on of a message or idea. The postcard recovers the form which communication has lost. The entire postcard – the picture on the front and the carefully crafted prose (or poem) message on the back – is the communicative function with its aesthetic form recovered. It is both a message and an aesthetic experience. It is a piece of art, a deep outpouring of what is within the writer.

But it is not just merely the conveyance of the writer’s words and feelings. No, it is the conveyance of the writer himself/herself – the feelings, the thoughts, the words, and the entire experience encountered in the process of writing – all packaged into a humble postcard.

And so, when I give you a postcard, I am not simply giving you a message. I am giving you a piece of myself.