Postal Systems

For thousands of years the letter – the written or printed word carried from one person to another – was the favoured way to send a message. But it is the postal system that makes the letter (and its reply) an important communications medium and which has been the blueprint for the architecture and operation of many of the other media forms which followed. The structure and economics of the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television and the internet all have their origins in the way the post was organized.  The debates in the 21st. century about building the information superhighway and the desirability of making high speed broadband available to all are simply re-runs of the 19th century postal issues.

What makes the post, or the mail, such a key part of the development of media is the system it created for moving information around. It was the first example of powerful network effects in communication and first raised the issue of the social benefits of making access to information universal and how to charge for that.  Decisions to use the postal system to subsidise the distribution of books, magazines and newspapers had profound effects on the growth of those media. It is no understatement to say that postal systems nurtured the concept of nationhood. Indeed in post-revolutionary America, creating the national postal system was a conscious policy to reinforce the newly minted idea of the United States.

The mail or the postal system is simply a way of getting a document into the hands of a named person at a distant location but more than that it creates a medium to allow the transmission and, indeed, broadcast in a sense, of news and information.  In each country, as it developed, the Post Office became the way that the nation was brought together in media terms. Early newspapers and magazines, when they had small circulations, depended on the post to reach far flung readers and to get stories from their correspondents. Many carry an echo of this in their name, hence The Newsletter, The Post and The Mail.

Subpages (2): Pillar Box Pony Express