Sending postcards is a dying practice internationally it seems. I’ve been hearing and reading about this a lot lately. It seems that the days of the Collection acquiring new specimens may soon be coming to an end.
The New York Times recently had an op-ed article by Stephen R. Kelly explaining why sending print postcards in China is so difficult (and it’s not just because the glue on the stamps doesn’t actually work). It’s an insightful article on his experience living in China that records the dying out of this communication form.
Why It’s Almost Impossible to Find a Postcard in China (June 2, 2015). Here are some excerpts:
KUNSHAN, China — For the last seven weeks I have been trying to send a postcard from this “smallish” city of nearly two million….Kunshan is just west of Shanghai, in the heart of modernizing China. But finding a postcard, finding a stamp, getting that stamp to stick, finding a place to mail the postcard — even just getting anyone on this state-of-the-art campus to accept the idea of putting a letter in the mail — have proved a challenge, and not just because of my wobbly Chinese. In my travels to the tourist traps around Kunshan, I have seen exactly one Chinese person writing a postcard….
I’m not alone. For many Americans, sending a postcard from an exotic locale is still a mainstay of modern travel, if only to prove you actually went somewhere. It’s short and sweet, no heavy messaging required, the Twitter of a block-print age. And who doesn’t enjoy finding a handwritten missive among the supermarket fliers and other invasive species that swarm our mailboxes?…
My wife and I finally escaped from Kunshan on the ultramodern bullet train that whisked us at 200 miles an hour to Shanghai, a serious city of 14 million-plus that sees many more foreigners than Kunshan. And finally, pay dirt, of a sort: At our hotel the English-speaking concierge had his own secret cache of postcards, black-and-white period photos of old Shanghai. Not a wide selection, but who were we to be picky?…
Even more than in the United States, [Chinese] people appear addicted to their smartphones. Waiting for the train home in the yawning ultramodern Hangzhou station, hundreds of faces basked in the cool blue light of an iPhone or Samsung. Not a pen was in sight….
My students here have assured me that the postcard is not dead in China, just moribund. You could say the same in America. But the Chinese traditionally have revered handwritten communication….
The relative rarity of the handwritten postcard here is symptomatic of a pell-mell rush toward a digital and depersonalized future. It seems sad to see the broad strokes of Chinese culture and communication shrunk to a 3-by-5-inch screen, and delicate brush lettering now reduced to pecking with two thumbs…
If you visit the Middle Kingdom, plan on sending a selfie from in front of Mao’s tomb to prove you were here. But forget about mailing Mom a postcard.