Saturday, December 30, 2006

Postcards, Postcards, Postcards

PostCrossing brings so much fun to my post office box. Yesterday I got this fabulous addition to my UNESCO World Heritage collection from a man in UK. The site, Giant's Causeway is on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. On the back of the postcard is a real message. Yes, a nice long, by postcard standards, message. This is becoming a rare treat on postcards. Sure, the typical brief "wish you were here" message is mostly expected on a holiday postcard from family and friends, but on postcards sent to strangers I always think there should be a bit more communication. Why bother with postage and writing if you are just going to say "here is a postcard of X," which is quite obvious from the start? Or sometimes just "this is the postcard I promised you from X forum." Yeah... and? Did you visit the place? Does the image mean something to you? What did you have for breakfast today? Something! Tell me something other than the obvious!

On the back of this postcard there is a really nice descriptive caption provided by the publishing company, but the sender used the writing space to give me so much more. Details about the folklore that resulted in these odd rock formations (two giants battling it out), a nice summary of how Britain is divided into four nations, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England. And a bit about the languages in those places. There is even a Welsh greeting, bore da (good morning), to start the message. All this makes this postcard a valuable addition to my collection. It isn't just a picture to add to the book. I have a teeny sense of the person behind the postcard, too. Communication, however small, with a stranger in another land. This is the reason I started collecting postcards so many years ago. Even if I never hear from this sender again, I have made a connection that is more than the obvious.

For many years I traded postcards on Yahoo groups. At first it was great fun because the organized swaps usually had themes and it was like a treasure hunt trying to find postcards to match the theme. The swaps would be to 5 to 20 or more people, so sometimes it would be a real challenge to get the postcards picked out, written, and mailed before the deadline. I enjoyed it, though. But, after a while, I got discouraged because people became oh so fussy about the "quality" of the postcard, the size of the postcard, the postage stamps used, the condition in which the postcard arrived (like the sender has any control over that!). The message became secondary to the image. And the messages were too often just the "this is the card for XYZ swap" and a signature. I started trading less and less, and then Yahoo really made me mad (a whole other kettle of fish), and I just abruptly dropped the groups and stopped trading for a while.

Then PostCrossing came along. I read about it at the forum on BookCrossing and joined up immediately. Random postcards to and from strangers instead of organized swaps. And with each postcard request I am sent, there is a bit of information about the recipient... their interests, likes, philosophy, history. Sometimes the information is thin, but it is rare that there isn't something. Writing postcards became interesting again. And I was receiving postcards with lots of wonderful tidbits, including what the sender had for breakfast since I ask that question in my own profile. But, lately things have been going a bit downhill.

As the PostCrossing project matures, some long-standing members seem to have lost the initial wonderment of the whole thing. I get more postcards with just "hope you enjoy this view of X," the ID number and sign-off. And when I get those sort of "messages," I am almost always correct in assuming the sender has sent 100 or more postcards. The folk who are just getting started with the project are almost always more verbose. I am not disillusioned, like with Yahoo groups, because it is still not common to get the mundane. Usually the message is fun or interesting or informative or all of that. And then I will get a card like the one pictured here, and I forget all the dull ones.

Thank you to all those who send postcards with a bit of themselves attached. You make my world more interesting and exciting.

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