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Life 3.0

Twitter by Post

Twitter is the contemporary postcard—social updates that are limited by size, but not imagination. For a month, with a billion stamps, our correspondent moved his tweets from the laptop to the post office, and rediscovered the joy of mail.

Credit: @gilest

Like all the best ideas, this one popped into life unexpectedly. 

“How about doing Twitter by post?” I wondered to myself one morning.

“Would it work? How? Would it be fun?”

With the help of some willing collaborators, I decided to put it into action, and find out.

It worked like this: everyone involved sent me their postal address, while I headed down to the local Post Office and bought a job lot of stamps. Most of my helpers were here in the UK, but some were in the U.S., one in Australia, and one in New Zealand. I worried about how long the whole thing would take, what with having to wait for international posting times. But I needn’t have worried.

The mechanics of it took a while to work out. Most difficult was replicating my personal Twitter timeline—how could I post the same thing to everyone? Well, by writing it out lots of times.

For those “public” tweets, I wrote the same thing out 15 times, on 15 cards, and sent them to 15 different people. This took every moment as long as you might think; possibly a little longer.

Other tweets were easier to do. The analogue of sending an @reply or a DM is simply sending one card to one person. Much simpler. Soon after starting the project, I settled on these as the best way of communicating.

My wonderful collaborators were asked to do more than simply receive my ramblings through their letterboxes. I also asked them to reply with cards of their own.

For the weeks that followed, my front door was my timeline. The sound of the postman (or postwoman, in my case) pushing cards through the letterbox became the equivalent of the little “DING” your Twitter client makes when you have new messages. Like Pavlov’s dog, I began to associate the sound of the postwoman’s approach with the arrival of new, unusually personal messages. I’d get jumpy with excitement, and rush out to the hall the moment they’d been delivered.

It’s true: While this experiment was under way, getting mail was fun again.

 

To begin at the beginning. The Englishman’s mantra: “When in doubt, Tweet about Marmite.”

 

My friend @bamblesquatch probably isn’t interested in this image, but I decide to send it to him anyway.

 

Just before leaving Twitter itself behind, @philgyford told me “I don’t think mine’s working. I’ve tried turning it off and on again.” I have no idea what he was referring to, but I decide to do my best to help.

 

I thought it was only polite to let Twitter know that I was doing this. They didn’t reply.

 

I do a lot of singing on Twitter. Especially @TheLilacTime songs.

 

I don’t know @Gold_Ginger personally. I hope she’ll like this image.

 

@tullyhansen lives far, far away. I’m hoping that the international postal services will be able to deliver this message in a timely way.

 

It’s true, @monkeyarmada has a wonderful address. I can’t tell you what it is; you’ll just have to trust me.

 

@russelldavies gets in touch to say that he’d like to take part in this project. He’s a bit late, but I want to let him know that being a bit late doesn’t matter.

 

No really, I know nothing about @nidjit.

 

My wife Kate is on Twitter, @knittyliciousUK. There’s no point sending her cards in the post, so I tuck them under her pillow. She tells me a few days later that she doesn’t know how to respond, other than to say “Thank you” as we eat breakfast. “Thank you,” she says. “My pleasure,” I reply. “You’re mad,” she says. “I know,” I reply.

 

Walking through some woods on the way to a postbox, I decide to send a photo to @philgyford.

 

@russelldavies might be worried that he’s missed much. He hasn’t.

 

Ask your parents or your grandparents, and they might have a stash of old letters lurking in a box somewhere. You should look at them one day. 

Back when people wrote letters, they didn’t have to be the long catch-ups that people tend to write today. We write long letters now because we hardly write letters at all, so we feel obliged to make them something special, to pad them out with lots of news. This makes them long and tedious to write, which means we’re disinclined to write letters; so we don’t write any at all, and post on Facebook instead.

But if you get the chance to look at some old letters—properly old, from the first half of the 20th century, or older—you’ll see that they weren’t always long screeds. In fact they were often kept short and to the point.

A bit like social media updates, actually.

A letter back then might simply ask one question. The reply would answer it. Just that. A letter might describe a single event, or pass on a single piece of news. I’m pregnant. Your father is dying. I was sent on patrol last night, and I survived. I love you. I still love you. I no longer love you.

Simple, short messages. That’s what the post was for. That’s why postal services were so frequent, and why there were so many deliveries.

The post mattered. People love updates.

 

Nearly a week after starting, I get my first incoming message! It’s from lovely @cdevers, who has sent me not just a mere photo, but a panoramic photo, neatly folded and stapled to a card. I’m surprised and delighted that this one made it through the postal network unscathed.

 

I need to find out more about @cdever’s photo. So I’ll ask him.

 

Just keeping @russelldavies up with what’s up.

 

Anyway.

 

I last met @suzlister in the flesh when we were teenagers. Twenty years ago? Goodness me. It’s nice to see her on Twitter. I wonder how her life has panned out.

 

Her reply is swift and correct: 25 years ago. Blimey.

 

@monkeyarmada gets in touch with a salient point.

 

I try to ensure my reply is appropriately smudgy.

 

Time to post more to my public timeline.

 

This is about as rebellious as I normally get.

 

@philgyford gets in touch with some news about his wife.

 

This is starting to feel like normality now.

 

@monkeyarmada’s reply to my bad day message turns up, a perfect mix of sympathetic and hilarious.

 

So I write back to tell him so.

 

I forgot to photograph the front of the envelope, so I’m not sure who I sent this video link to. Pretty sure it was @bamblesquatch.

 

A photo to @russelldavies, describing how I sometimes feel.

 

They do. They really do.

 

Another excellent observation from @monkeyarmada.

 

And another! There’s no stopping the man! Also, has he used a piece of cereal box to make a postcard? He has.

 

We must all do this.

 

The modern postcard has become another obligation, something people feel they ought to send to loved ones from a vacation. “Look at us, we’re on holiday!” That’s a shame, because the postcard is the perfect medium for communicating briefly. Like Twitter’s restrictive word count, a postcard limits you.

Replicating Twitter via the postal system wasn’t an attempt to reject the internet—it was a way of celebrating it.

It limits the amount you can write, but not your imagination. As Twitter-by-post has proved.

In all of this, the intention wasn’t to escape the internet. There was no sense of trying to capture some kind of zen-like minimalism, to recapture simpler times of days gone by. No, none of that. I love the internet, after all. In all its frustrating, ever-changing, mutating, laugh-inducing, mind-provoking glory, the internet changed my career, my hobbies, my life.

Replicating Twitter via the postal system wasn’t an attempt to reject the internet—it was a way of celebrating it.

 

A few days later, the first message from my old friend @am_hynny, now resident in New Zealand.

 

Hols are yay.

 

Looks like @philgyford has got whatever it was fixed now. Good.

 

As you can see, it’s a weight off my mind.

 

@monkeyarmada is clearly a man of great intellect. I want to ask him about this corridor.

 

This one from @philgyford stops me in my tracks. Seriously. It makes me stop, and think, and think some more.

 

Does he need reassurance? I’m not sure. I send some anyway.

 

A fine response to the whole Yellow Warning of Rain thing.

 

And my mediocre response to the fine response.

 

My editor at TMN, @rosecrans, replies to my first public postal tweet with his unfortunate and misguided views. He clearly lacked sufficient Marmite during childhood.

 

I’ll try to educate him, but it’s an uphill battle I know.

 

More from @cdevers. He’s been bowling, and watching The Big Lebowski.

 

I like The Big Lebowski too.

 

A message from my TMN colleague @nzle! Another day brightened.

 

As I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

And another from @nzle!

 

Oh look, @thayer did like my photo after all. This makes me happy.

 

She’s a busy lass.

 

I wouldn’t want to let people think I was making this all up as I went along... but I am.

 

@russelldavies agrees about messy desks, and re-uses my tweet to say so. Smart thinking, and mess-reducing at the same time.

 

The timeline stretches through the postal system. Days after my bad day, I’m still getting nice replies (this one from @nzle) to cheer me up. How lovely is that?

 

Sounds like @am_hynny is having network problems.

 

I like his drawing of the Fail Whale so much, I’m going to “fave” it.

 

Again, time’s getting stretched out of shape, like echoes in a huge empty hall. Now @am_hynny is taking me to task about my Marmite concerns. Does he not understand how important Marmite is? Perhaps I should send him some.

 

Yes, look, he needs my help. He’s troubled by co-workers.

 

This probably won’t help him much.

 

Here’s @am_hynny’s help for the bad day, which must have been nearly two weeks ago now.

 

 

Hey look, @nzle faved my tweet! She’s great.

 

I am glad. I am.

 

Hey look! It’s a reply from @tullyhansen! Just in time.

 

That’s how great @nzle is.

 

I’m not completely sure who this is from. I think it must be @monkeyarmada. Twitter is never this ambiguous. Perhaps it should be, sometimes.

 

Just as I’m about to bring this experiment to a close, it emerges that an email wrongly identified as spam meant that @soypunk wasn’t included, when he should have been. I send him something to make him feel better about it.

 

In fact I send him several things.

 

So he doesn’t feel left out.

 

The world is full of Fail Whales. We swim among them.

 

Even through the post, we talked. We sent links, locations, photos, and videos. We faved. We retweeted. We glimpsed the Fail Whale, and saluted her. The enforced time delay was no more inconvenient than Twitter’s enforced character count. Conversations took longer, but they made just as much sense. If anything, they felt more real. Now I have a pile of conversations on my desk. I can touch them, or shuffle them.

Tweeting by post made me appreciate the online and the offline. Brevity is a good thing, but there’s no reason we should only be brief on Twitter. The internet is a marvelous thing, but so is cheese, so are close friends who know your opinions and respect them, so is a glass of fine English ale. So is getting postcards from interesting people, because it makes your letterbox come alive.

You in turn can post your life through other people’s letterboxes, and you should, every now and then. It’s more fun than a fave, or a DM, or an @reply.

Big thanks to the merry band of Twitterers who agreed to be subjected to my ramblings by post, and who cheerfully sent their own ramblings by return: @cdevers, @soypunk, @bamblesquatch, @nzle, @philgyford, @thayer, @knittyliciousuk, @russelldavies, @monkeyarmada, @am_hynny, @suzlister, @tullyhansen, @Gold_Ginger, @nidjit, and @rosecrans. Without their help, this would have been meaningless. And not nearly so much fun.

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer Giles Turnbull finds it hard to write a meaningful bio, despite being a professional writer for some 15 years now. That’s horrifying. It’s frightening. You can visit him online at gilest.org. More by Giles Turnbull