The good old post service has had a difficult stand with the raise of the digital message. The romantic love letter as well as the intense debating correspondence has largely shifted into the virtual realm of messages on a computer screen. The main content of mail remaining is legal documents that need to be in physical form or parcels. Things still need to be moved.
What the mail service provides, beyond delivering post, is a web of connection. In fact a very dense and very flexible network with numerous elements, links and nodes. These ranges from a post office, to a distribution and sorting centre to the postman in the street delivering.
Based on a detailed system of code every functional unit in the city i accessible through this web an can connect to any other unit. Quite and important and versatile institution this is. In todays cities we relay on a number of such infrastructure systems constructing and serving the urban landscape, such as power networks and streets. However the mail and address system is probably the most flexible one.
Mail correspondence has a long tradition and is looking through historical works, for example in art or science, the letters between different figures in volved act a an important medium of exchange and stimulation.
In a recent visualisation 'Visualizing the Republic of Letters' developed at Stanford University by Daniel Chang, Yuankai Ge, Shiwei Song, Nicole Coleman, Jon Christensen, and Jeffrey Heer the past correspondance of 55'000 letters by 6400 people over about 200 years has be mapped and animated. The visualisation is based on the e-enlightment project, an electronic database for letters and lives. "Electronic Enlightenment reconstructs the extraordinary web of correspondence that marked the birth of the modern world."
In a recent Princeton Architectural Press publication the topic of the mail and especially the parcel i explored from a very different perspective. The book 'The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects' by John Tingey traces the story of Willie Reginald Bray. It is not just about the person but about the special experiments he staged practically exploring the possibilities of the mail service. Basically he just posted everything and anyone, including himself.
The postal service became very popular with the radical changes in 1840 in prices and structure. The mail needed to be pre payed by the sender (was previously payed by the receiver) and a simplified pricing structure, one penny for a letter in the UK.
Bray however wanted to explore the boundaries of this 'shipping things' on both ends, the side of the object and what could possibly be sent, as well as the coding system, the addresses and the labeling.
Image taken from fingersports / A picture postcard utilised the image as an element of the address. 'To a resident nearest to these rocks'.
These are very interesting parameter of the service. Bray for example developed a series of postcards with coded addresses that required the postman to deceiver the intended receiver. This could be in the form of a rhyme, writing using wax or using symbols. During the high days of the pictue card area he also utilised these pictures as the address, only with the accompanied instruction "to the resident nearest". The actual address was aso of interest to Bray and he experimente with sending letters and postcards to train drivers for example, as a moving destination.
The object posted in the second categorie ranged from onions to dogs and as mentioned himself. It was in February 1900 that he tested the Mail service and again in November 1903 that he posted himself as a 'Person Cyclist' back home. Bray claimed this to be the first time a person has ever been posted.
The book pulls together this rather curious story about a man's efforts to test out the service that links together across the entire country. And this collection possibly highlights the exact difference between the generally linking infrastructure and this postal linking network. It works in both directions and is in this sense a truly interactive service that can be, as Bray demonstrates customised to a large extend.
Tingey, J., 2010. Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects, the, Princeton Architectural Press.
Also thanks to James from spatialanalysis for the letter link.