Linear Isolation

Philately is the result of one of the great social innovations in the history of communications- cheap and rapid postal messaging. Before 1500, the only communication that was available for most people was direct conversation. You visited distant family and friends yourself or received word from them from the people who had seen them. Letters for anything other than the most momentous events became more and more common after 1500 and by the advent of cheap postage (furthered by stamps in 1840) the post had made family communications very pervasive. Many lithographic pictures of the time exist of families reading together the mail that had come from distant relatives and drafting their collective responses. Today, with letter writing virtually nonexistent people have turned to email and cell phones for their communication. But even though these new technologies allow us to be in contact easier and even more often than before, they create only linear communication. Years ago when my wife and I were first married I would often answer the phone when her parents called. They lived far away and simple politeness meant that I spoke to them for several minutes before passing them over to my wife. They and I developed a relationship from this that slowly grew as we saw more of each other and talked more but had it’s origins in the non linear nature of communication of the time like letters and land phones. Today, cell phone calls and emails go only to one recipient and though we all talk to our kids with greater frequency than our parents talked to us, we talk only to them and have less of a relationship with the other people in their lives. Communication which started out as individuals talking to one another and expanded to a more group dynamic through the early years of the post (which philately honors) has now returned to the more linear lines of communication of the earlier era. The sense of community which stamps helped create was a nicer, richer part of life which we are sadly giving up.
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