“Wish you were here.” That was the truism we used to write on postcards. Less and less, do we write that, these days, when we can take a selfie next to the Eiffel Tower, or the Empire State building, and instantly upload it to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The unwritten message accompanying the electronic postcard is not so much “Wish you were here,” as “Look where I am.” (Though I think there was always an element of the latter in the paper versions, too.)
The main difference between an electronic image and a paper postcard, I think, is that the electrons go to everybody. A postcard to one person. If we wrote “Wish you were here,” it is because we wished that particular person, the recipient, to be in that particular place at that time, with us.
The other difference is that a postcard, by definition, was never a picture of ourselves. It was pre-printed with an image of a local landmark or scenic view. (Or not very scenic, in the example below.)
You chose the image for the recipient. “You’d love this.” You bought a stamp and sent the card in the post so that the person receiving it would know that you had stood in the foreign country and perhaps spoken a little of the local language to get that card winging through the air and across the seas and into their hands. You were thinking of them. They could pin the card to the wall to remind them of the fact.
Worldwide, postcard sales are declining. When was the last time you received one? When was the last time you sent one? One poll found that only 16% of UK holidaymakers even considered sending one, and that more than 50 percent of under 24-year-olds have never posted one at all.
I have sent many postcards. I have received many postcards. I enjoy looking back over places I have been or words that people have written to me. A Facebook update somehow isn’t as real or as meaningful.
If you’re mourning the demise of the printed postcard, help is at hand. Join Postcrossing, “a project that allows you to send postcards and receive postcards back from random people around the world.” As of this month (February 2017), the site’s members have sent over 40 million postcards to each other.
Glad to see someone’s keeping the postal staff gainfully employed.