Back online, somewhat ambivalently

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People sent me a lot of postcards during the digital-detox experiment, but this one is probably my favorite since it combines postcard, newspaper and typewriting all in one.

 

After six months of immersing myself in Slow Media, I’m back online now — though still not using a cellphone. Interwebbing was fun for the first few days, but surprisingly the excitement faded fast.

Since starting the experiment in July, I have used payphones and yellow pages and typewriters… penned piles of letters and postcards… watched all my VHS tapes and listened to all my audiocassettes (along with some vinyl, until my record-player broke)… devoured a huge stack of newspapers and books… deciphered many a printed map…. and taken photographs with disposable cameras, 35mm film and Polaroids.

It was really fun. And honestly, life without digital media wasn’t that hard, folks. You should try it. Maybe just for a day, or a weekend?

Next up: I might perform a week of silent meditation to challenge the assumption that we need to speak, or maybe I’ll stop washing my hair for a few months to prove that we don’t need shampoo.

Postcard experiment redux

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Attentive readers will remember that last fall, I began a little experiment by sending some vintage postcards (above) to a couple dozen friends and family members. I was interested in seeing what kind of response they got, in this day and age that's relatively postcard-less.

The response was a loud and clear "meh." A few people replied to acknowledge and thank me for the missive. Notably, most people did so via online media, e.g. a Facebook message asking me to be someone's penpal and a text message to the tune of "Love the postcard!"

As for everyone else, maybe they didn't get the cards? Did I put the wrong postage? Did they accidentally slip inside a catalog or some piece of junk mail that got thrown away? Or maybe people just don't care about postcards enough to remark on them.

Or, more likely, they were confused by the kitschy ones I sent, featuring jackalopes and "bratwurst beauties" and trout gobbling chum and advertisements for products such as sliced bread, antacids and water heaters that must have seemed more impressive in the 1960s.

One highlight of 2009 for me was receiving perhaps the only postcard of the year from my dissertation advisor, a terrific journalism historian. About a week after talking to him on the phone about my Slow Media project, I received a postcard featuring a photo of our old university library and the message:

My mother, who is 94 and never has had a computer, always types letters on a manual typewriter. So, I type to her in return, often sending postcards. That's about the only use I get out of my old Underwood these days. It always works, though. Typewriters never "crash," although the movers dropped my mother's' when she moved recently. I had to give her one from my collection.

Someone with a collection of typewriters sending me an unsolicited postcard? My hero.

Celebrate National Handwriting Day

How's your penmanship these days? With the development of more affordable and
sophisticated writing gadgets, American Educator magazine
notes, "It seems the death of handwriting
draws closer every year." According to the article, dozens of studies have found that handwriting instruction improves writing — in terms of not only its legibility but also its quality and quantity.

In honor of National Handwriting Day this week, enjoy this classic essay by Lance Morrow that ran in Time magazine in 1986. He imagines the Toad character from The Wind in the Willows giving up pen and pencil for a typewriter, and then ditching that machine in favor of a word processor. One day, Toad decides to pick up the handwriting habit again and "finds himself seduced, in love, scribbling away in the transports of a new passion."

So why not celebrate handwriting by scribbling a postcard or letter to a friend or relative, who will value it more than an e-mail or text message?  That's what I'm going to do right now…

My postcard experiment

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Some of the vintage postcards that my friends might — or might not — have received recently.


To indulge my new fetish for slow media, I just sent a few dozen postcards to friends and family this weekend. For some reason, it felt like an experiment. I'm interested in seeing how, or whether, people respond to them. It's probably somewhat rare these days for any of them to find a postcard — especially one from me, in any case — in their mailboxes. Also, it seemed like it would be fun to send this small collection of humorous vintage postcards that I bought back in 1993 (above). It seemed like it was time to finally use them.

I must say, preparing those postcards to mail was kind of a pain. One post office was out of postcard stamps and there was a long line at the other one, which didn't have a stamp vending machine (just realized I could have ordered them online!). It took almost a week to get them out. I got writer's cramp. It was tedious repeating slight variations of the same message on all those cards. My handwriting is terrible when I write that much that quickly, so people will probably struggle to read the messages. The space constraint felt unfamiliar; one of the blessings/curses of postcards, of course, is that you can only write a few lines. That wasn't nearly enough room to accommodate everything I wanted to say to some friends, while short messages left conspicuously blank space on other cards.

I recently moved to a new city, so the premise for corresponding with everyone was conveying the new address. I could have done this by e-mail and avoided the space constraint. Also, ironically, I had to check Facebook profiles for several people to make sure they still lived where I thought they did. (They didn't! One family from North Carolina just moved to West Virginia, another friend from Louisiana seems to be in Florida now, etc. Guess there's little impetus now to inform people of new whereabouts since they can always find you online regardless of where you live.) Although several people send me Christmas and birthday cards, the rest probably won't use my snail mail for anything, anyway.

Basically, I'm never doing that again. Unless I get a lot of positive feedback from recipients that makes it seem worthwhile — feedback that would have been facilitated if I had sent e-mails and people could have replied at the click of a few buttons. Will people contact me to comment on the unusual postcard, or respond in kind somehow? Will the postcard get delivered to the right place, since USPS probably doesn't either forward them to new addresses or bounce them back to the sender? Will anyone even notice the cards in his or her neglected mailbox, mixed in with bills and catalogs and junk-mail? If the postcards do arrive, however, there's a chance that recipients will enjoy and display and share the postcard more than they would an e-mail message.