Over on my other blog, I’ve been writing about how postal services, or more accurately, the letter handling service, is in terminal decline.
The universal letter service was one of the great nineteenth century inventions, and in the case of Britain (and Ireland) played a major role in keeping families in contact before email and skype.
It was the same service that allowed Wallace to write to Darwin about evolution, and for people to send home letters about the strange sights and sounds that they had seen. In short it was part of the social glue of the Victorian and Edwardian British Empire.
The postal service enabled a whole range of activities for example it allowed people to order books by mail, play chess by correspondence with people half a world away, and even get their favourite newspaper from home, even if it was two months late.
It was one of the key components, along with the railway, the steamship, and the telegraph that turned the world from something very eighteenth century to something that was recognisably modern.
And of course what we are talking about is increased and increasingly reliable communication.
In the days of the sailing ship, people effectively dropped off the face of the earth. Ships took as long as they did to get somewhere, and sending letters home was equally erratic, the services were simply not predictable.
Come the steamship and the railway, suddenly it was predictable – the predictability being what allowed Cook’s to operate, by making it simple to organise travel – train to Dover, packet boat to Boulogne, train to Marseille, ship to Alexandria, train to Port Said, etc.
And with that predictability the world changed. Punctuality became a virtue. People started using pocket watches, and scheduling meetings. All because we could now say where we would be next Tuesday with a degree of certainty …
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