Did you ever have a pen pal in another country? If you did, you probably loved getting handwritten letters in your mailbox, enjoying insights into the daily life of a person from different culture.
Whether or not you had a pen pal, most of us still love getting “real” mail. It’s an old-school pleasure to open an envelope and read a personal note of goings on, thanks, congratulations, or a wish for a happy birthday. That letter is a memento of a connection to save and revisit from time to time.
Now that the internet brings the world to our armchairs, we may be less connected than ever. The immediacy and convenience of internet communications has made us forget some of the joys and benefits of snail mail.
One group, Postcrossing, has figured out how to use the internet to foster a community of snail-mailers by way of a formal online project. Eight years ago, Paulo Magalhães launched Postcrossing to “fix the problem of his empty mailbox.” The mission of Postcrossing is to connect the world, in a real way (albeit a bit more slowly than what we’re used to).
The Postcrossing website allows anyone to receive postcards from random places in the world. First, you set up an account. Then you request to send your first postcard. Each postcard is associated with a Postcard ID, which tracks the coming and going of that postcard. You mail one to the address given, and then you wait to receive a postcard from another postcrosser. You can have five postcards traveling at the same time.
The 8 Coolest Features of Postcrossing
- You get surprised! You don’t know where the postcards will come from. Receiving postcards from random places in the world – many of which you probably have never heard of – is fun.
- You learn something new. Most of us are too busy or too broke to travel. Postcrossing is a chance to get to know some countries and cultures that you know very little about. Postcards chosen will have local scenery, architecture, flowers/plants, art, hobbies and celebrations.
- You connect. A postcrosser will write about hobbies, family, work, life in their city. Sending someone a personal note, handwritten, fosters a connection with others, in a real way.
- You can meet up. Many postcrossers have had the chance to connect in person. There is a list there of all upcoming meetups on the postcrossing website.
- Stamps are wonderful. It’s not just about the postcard. Stamps are a thing of beauty: the art, their representation of culture, the fact that they have travelled far to get where they are going.
- You can create a cool display. Some postcrossers have covered walls with their favorite postcards. Many make scrapbooks.
- You get to shop. Postcrossers love browsing for postcards with photos that capture their hometowns, cultures and communities.
- It doesn’t take much time. Dashing off a postcard takes only a few minutes. The community reports great feelings of pleasure from postcard replies, and connecting with someone from another culture.
That’s a Lot of Postcards
Postcrossing is responsible for 980 postcards sent around the world every hour. Nearly 500,000 postcards are in transit right now! The site boasts just under half a million Postcrossers in over 214 countries who have sent and received more than 18 million postcards. All these postcards have traveled 95,367,181,435 km, which is nearly 2.5 million laps around the world.
To me, Postcrossing seems bigger than just a hobby. It’s a postcard uprising, an attempt to connect people globally, meaningfully, through old-school mail. It brings you into the world, and in doing so, may create a better one. Whenever you see news of global conflict and cultural misunderstanding, it’s comforting to remember 18 million people breaking down walls with this simple pastime.
The Postcrossing community just had its eighth birthday. The highly engaged community celebrated with cakes and photos of their collections. Happy birthday, Postcrossing!
Have you ever heard of Postcrossing before, and is it something you’d try? What do you think about postcards and pen pals in the digital age? Tell us about your experience!