It started over the Christmas break, and built from there. We started talking about social media and how each of us used it and viewed it. Most apart from me seemed to use Facebook, about half had a list of people they followed on Twitter, and two of us used LinkedIn. There was a smattering of other systems, and I’m sure that a few years ago sites like MySpace would have featured strongly, but not now.
The interesting thing was that we ended up discussing social media which didn’t involve computers. Pen pals and postcards seemed to feature highly, but that may be a because of the age of a couple of the participants. As a kid, I remember trying to stick with the regular letters to a pen pal in some distant part of the world, but neither of us kept it up. Postcards were a bit different though – colourful and enough space for a short note. There wasn’t any privacy, but as someone pointed out a little unkindly, that appears to meet the Facebook feature set today!
It got me thinking, pen pals are simple and either unheard of or hugely common nowadays depending on your viewpoint. Instead of a letter which was often checked by parents, you can dash of an email. Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and discussion forums all give you access to a broad selection of people in all parts of the world, and there’s usually some common interest which makes it more likely that you’ll get a reply. There’s a somewhat negative view that social media give shallow relationships, but I think that’s unfair. It certainly can do, but no-one I knew as a kid got a lasting relationship with a pen-pal, so what exactly is the difference?
One of the schools I attended pushed the need for a pen pal, although I forget why. It was probably an attempt to make us more worldly by having contact with someone in a different culture. I’m not sure how that was expected to work – they may have had a different culture, but they spoke and wrote English, so there had to be some similarity.
Postcards stand out here again. Tourists still use them, and there’s certainly a broad selection on sale locally, but I suspect that the millions that went through the post a century ago are no longer there in such quantity. Compared with the cards that were available in the decades immediately after their introduction, current offerings are cheaper, more colourful and somehow often less interesting. The variety is still there – colour saturated photographs of Perth, the local art gallery has cards showing the work of artists on display, there are sets of aboriginal art and, of course, topless girls on the beach.
The only category that seems to have died out are those cards showing disasters. Fires, damaged seaside piers after a storm, train or tram crashes and damage caused by war. Perhaps TV gives us more of that kind of imagery than we need, and tourists just want to write a quick note to the folks at home.
But postcards don’t seem to have made the transition to digital. It’s easy enough to include a picture with an email, but I’ve noticed that fewer people are willing to source copyright-free photos, so they either do without, or use an image that they like without considering copyright issues. It’s a pity, there was something appealing about a postcard.
So, do you agree?