The Power of the Postcard

In today’s world, conveying messages, opinions, or thoughts is fast, free, and easy. So why are so many people choosing to go back to snail mail?

Digital communication has become so much a part of our everyday lives that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that we started to communicate in this fast-paced manner. Before that, if we wanted to get in touch with someone using the written word, we had no choice but to sit down and write to them.

Deliberate, personal, and thoughtful – writing a letter or postcard often requires careful consideration and moments of self-reflection. Sometimes it feels like our modern world is so fixated on speeding things up, that we’re losing these opportunities for quiet contemplation. Are handwritten letters really a thing of the past? Have carefully written postcards fully been replaced by a photo on Instagram accompanied by a few hashtags?

While technology can connect us, clearly it has the capacity to isolate us too. This realisation has led to many people rejecting advanced technology in favour of more emotive, tangible ways of expressing themselves. Like the return of the vinyl record, it seems as if the postcard and letter writing in general, may be part of this resurgence.

A case in point is the hugely popular ‘Postcrossing’ initiative. Created in 2005 by Paulo Magalhães, Postcrossing is an exchange programme that connects people with strangers all over the world who share a love of writing postcards. The concept is simple. For each postcard you send to one person, you receive one back from another. Unlike simply writing a letter to a friend, with Postcrossing you don’t have to know the person you are writing to. When you sign up and create a profile, the site automatically generates addresses for you to get you going. And with over 800,000 registered members from 206 different countries, the postcards you get back could be from anyone, anywhere in the world.

The art of writing letters through programmes such as Postcrossing has also experienced something of a boost in the last couple of years due to the pandemic. The last couple of years have been exceptionally difficult for many people who were forced to spend time apart from loved ones. Despite the variety of virtual options available, many people were still left feeling disconnected and isolated. And with time on their hands to engage in more indulgent, creative pursuits, it prompted many people to start writing again. Campaigns such as ‘From Lockdown with Love’ and ‘A Postcard a Day’ also enjoyed a lot of attention, celebrating the power of the postcard, and the joy of sending and receiving letters.

The purpose of the postcard has evolved many times since its birth over a century ago. Its future, however, is unwritten. Who knows how much longer the postcard will last, or whether it will be part of the lives of future generations? For now at least, putting pen to paper still offers an enduring appeal unmatched by any digital message on an online platform.