Cyburbia II – Post boxes?!

Another thing that has been affected by the growth in technology (as whined about in yesterday’s blog) is letter writing. No-one writes letters any more. Okay, I didn’t write that many letters before I had email, but I write even fewer now. It’s something of a lost art, and, as a historian (well, okay, as someone who did a degree in history once), you’ve got to wonder what that means for the scholars who will one day be studying the 21st century. Letters have had a heck of an impact on civilisation – you’ve only got to consider how a bunch of letters written by St. Paul ended up being the foundation for Christian theology. Nowadays St. Paul would have emailling to corinthftw@yahoo.com… and what happens when that account gets abandoned. Sure, emails can go viral, but it would be interesting to see how many internet memes have survived and how many have just withered away and died.

Letter writing and the postal service used to be a bigger deal, of course. I mean, I didn’t know until tonight that Scotland had experienced the Pillar Box War – apparently, when Elizabeth II became queen, people took offence at the new postbox logo (because, of course, the Queen is only Elizabeth I of Scotland). People got riled up about this, leading to court cases and vandalism.

It seems weird that people should get worked up about post boxes, but they’re iconic parts of the landscape. Same as phone boxes, only you don’t see so many of them nowadays. You could blame cellphone culture for that, but they were phasing out the red ones and bringing in dull, corporate glass things way before mobiles really took off. Bill Bryson has written about the icons of the English countryside disappearing, and that seems to be a shame – sure, you can’t preserve a culture in amber, but it’s probably worth pausing on what we might be losing as a result of rapid technological change. Quirky icons like pillar boxes, masses of oral history as society gets more fragmented (and maybe the decline in the pub trade also contributes towards this), local tales and folklore… I know what we’ve gained, but what are we losing?

(See, I don’t know how a challenge from Sudge to write about a random topic like the postal service has turned me into a curmudgeon, but it has! I dread to think what would have happened had the assignment been bunnies…)

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