What a wonderful array of communication channels we have at our fingertips these days. So capable, so varied, and all so very instant. But why is it that the more we have, the less contented we feel?
In the 80s and 90s we called it information overload - for the first time, office workers found themselves routinely buried under a deluge of email and a vague expectation that they really ought to keep up. Then came the social media revolution, enabling everyone to keep in touch with practically anyone, all the time. Whether by fax or by Facebook, we all embraced new communication paradigms that widened our reach and involved practically no delay between sending and receiving a message.
In my previous office job, I generally counted 100 emails a day and found myself glued to a wide range of blogs, feeds and twitterers. In between times, my real friends might be 'lucky enough' to pick up a photo or a status update that I'd somehow managed to squeeze into a 30 second reprieve from this barrage. Of course, I'd blatt these out to anyone who'd care to look me up. It's quicker that way and, well, the age of privacy is dead, right?
Unsurprisingly, it's precisely this situation that spurred me to leave my job and start my own business with a somewhat lower intensity approach to communication.
Then, in June 2012, Mintel announced the lingering death of the traditional printed postcard, with just 3% of Britons sending them compared to 30% in their heyday in the 1970s. This saddened me, not least because my friend and I had almost finished building our first experimental product at the time, Cards In The Post, which makes sending a real printed postcard as easy as making a Facebook status update. Maybe we won't be making our millions out of this one, we thought.
But I think the humble postcard should fight back, whether it's authored via our website, from one of the competitor services, or - shock - using an actual pen. In a way, postcards epitomize all that's good about slower and less capable communication. They are so simple: a picture, a short message, and a recipient. If it makes them sound sexier, you can think of them as the analogue version of a Tweet.
Despite their simplicity, writing a postcard makes us feel better than any amount of status updates. There's something to learn there.
First, it's clear that the sender is thinking uniquely about their recipient while they write - there's no option to copy in anyone else, and nothing will appear on a public wall. The message is infused with individual friendship in a way that would not be appropriate for blanket updates seen by more people.
And second, the delay between sending and receiving means the sender can put the communication out of their mind as soon as they've pressed send. There's no chance that there will be a response to deal with for at least a few days. Recipients also feel less of an obligation to respond than they do with email or Facebook messages. They just receive the card in the post, have a warm friendly feeling, and pop it under a fridge magnet.
The Slow Movement has been (slowly) building for a few years now. Its aim is to provide an antidote to today's technologically enhanced speed and the implied obligation to keep up. One Slow Movement website explains that communication works better when it happens less quickly, and with more of an emphasis on relationship rather than broadcast: "Slow conversations are conversations where the primary aim of each party is to truly understand the other person." No surprises there, just universally acknowledged truths: people don't always like acting quickly and friendships benefit from direct attention.
Postcards are not exactly the vanguard of the revolution. But I've certainly learned a lot from seeing how people enjoy communication more when they just slow down. It's also underlined to me that there we should keep a space in our ever-growing communications arsenal for even the most old-fashioned tools. We'll see how our little postcards project goes. We're in no hurry.
I'd love to know what readers of Huff Post think about slower communication. Does that resonate, or does it sound as obsolete as the typewriter? Answers in the comments please, or - preferably - by carrier pigeon.
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