In the age of connectivity, the humble postcard should have been rendered obsolete.
Now when we go on vacation, the loved ones we’ve left behind feel like they are there with us.
We Snapchat our journey, Tweet from the beach and — once we’re back home — Instagram a #throwback image of our favorite sunset.
But midway through our trip — despite the phones in our pockets — we head down to the souvenir shop and pick out a postcard or two for friends and family.
These cards — with their unrealistically beautiful depiction of our new locale — become witness to an erratic account of our vacation adventures — or misadventures — for our loved ones to enjoy.
Once upon a time, these scrawled descriptions of our holiday happenings remained between us and our pen pal.
Not any longer, thanks to the ingenious idea of Tom Jackson, the London-based creator of hit Twitter account “Postcard from the Past”.
“I’ve got a bit of a collection of postcards,” Jackson tells CNN. “One day I found a couple of them hanging around and I thought it would be fun to pop a few on Twitter and see what people thought of them.
“It quickly became apparent that people found them entertaining. It grew from there: Twitter wants more and you’ve got to feed the beast.”
‘Fragments of life’
“Postcard from the Past” aims to brighten up the Twittersphere by posting “fragments of life in real messages on postcards from the past”.
Tom curates images of old postcards alongside brief excerpts from the message on the back. The account, which began in March 2016, has already accumulated 21.5k followers.
The posts range from the amusing to the random to the poignant. These tantalizing snippets of other people’s lives are a reminder of our common humanity — and the universal trials and tribulations of vacations — whether they took place in 1950 or 2016.
The messages are often surprisingly sombre — “It is a long time since I heard anything from you. I fear you are ill again,” reads one — but the seriousness of the message can be counteracted by a jarring image: in this instance, a girl in a very large hat.
“The ones I like best are the ones where the way in which the words fall on the page is just perfect. They read like poetry or philosophy, they are both enigmatic and interesting,” says Jackson.
A postcard detailing the mysterious milking exploits of John and Bob is one of his favorites.
“The way that’s written is just a gift. It’s so unexpected — are they dairy farmers on holiday? Why are they milking local cows?”
‘The human condition in all its ridiculous colours’
Speaking to Jackson, it’s evident he has an author-philosopher’s interest in humanity.
“I’m not sneering at the writers of the cards, or trying to be a historian,” he explains. “The project’s about us: it’s about the human condition in all its ridiculous colors.”
In the posts family ties are celebrated and broken, vacations both life-changing and numbingly boring.
The posts are also innately British: “So warm we could eat Myrtle’s picnic lunch in comfort out of the car,” reads one.
In the long-lost days of mid-20th century England, picnicking out of the car could seem a luxury.
“The majority are British cards sent from the UK,” says Jackson.
“Those cards have the nostalgic appeal, a reminder of people’s holidays … I started with cards which were much older, they have a historical interest, from the past 100 years”.
“But I’ve found the ones that really appeal to people are the ones that are from past 50 years, I try to avoid using ones that are too recent.”
Jackson himself remains semi-anonymous. He never posts anything on the page aside from the posts.
His identity isn’t secret, he explains, but neither is it flaunted. He’s a self-described “ventriloquist” of other people’s thoughts.
“I’m not hiding, but I don’t tweet anything else on the feed, I don’t respond on the feed, I want to keep the feed completely pure, all you have is the cards and it’s not my voice, it adds to the mystique. You don’t want to spoil it.”
However Jackson might want to start taking more credit for his success. It was recently announced that Postcard from the Past will be published as a book by Fourth Estate in 2017.
The correlation between the image and the text will perhaps work even better in book form.
“The relationship between the picture and the message is interesting,” ponders Jackson, “It’s a fantasy image.
“The images tend to be perfect and the relationship between the picture of perfection and the commentary — which might be sad — is what often makes the post powerful.”
Recipe for success
So how does Jackson choose which postcards to post?
“I sit with a big box of cards and reject quite a lot. Occasionally I come back to them … I look at them and choose some with potential. I select the wording from the card.
“It’s all real — I don’t make anything up!
“I figure if it makes me laugh it should make other people laugh. I never know which ones would take off.
“I’m happy to emphasize that I take things slightly out of context, sometimes they are not as exciting as they appear, the next few sentences explain the enigma.”
Jackson attempts to pinpoint the account’s success.
It “acts as a unifier,” he suggests. “I’ve been told it’s a fantastic escape from the troubles of the world — but perhaps it just is one facet of the troubles of the world — being sunburnt on your holiday is troubling after all!”