Saturday, August 3, 2013
I didn't even have to look at the envelope to see there was something special about it. Just holding it in my hands, walking away from the office mailboxes. The envelope had that rag paper feel. Nice. Hand-addressed. I glanced at the back. A return address in Paris -- Boulevard Raspail.
Inside, nothing extraordinary. An 80-year-old Chicagoan, retired in Paris—nice—a lawyer, of course, had watched a continuing legal education video I made, years ago. He liked it and wanted to share a few comments.
Writing him back, I thought how few actual letters I get, and how effective a way it is to cut through the communications clutter. It just takes a little extra time, a little postage. Everything arrives by email nowadays, or text, or a tweet, so anything that doesn't tends to stand out, and seems a little special. For instance, these notices on the bulletin board at the train station in Northbrook. People standing around, waiting for a train, idly glance over them, maybe even study one, which is more than they would do for ads about used cars and babysitting services that arrive via emails. I'm not arguing that sticking something up on the wall — a practice that goes back to Pompeii and beyond — is more efficient than email alerts and Twitter blasts. But people still do it. There must be a reason. Someone must think it works. More than that. They do work. When people wonder about the future of books — or newspapers — they should remember that people still communicate with posters. They still deliver speeches, just like Marc Anthony did. They still go into the street and talk to passersby, one-on-one. Sometimes they distribute handbills, the way they did 300 years ago. We always assume that whatever new technology we're in love with will wipe away everything that came before. And we're always wrong.