Season 6, Episode 5
February 20, 2022
Theme: The Postal Service
I want to remind you of something. In 2022, most of us carry devices that allow us to connect with nearly anyone in the world within moments. We can access information in every language; we can build communities based on shared interests or common goals; we can create something and release it into the world simultaneously. The technological developments of our era are truly astounding. This is a revolution in communication akin to the development of the printing press – or, perhaps, the development of writing itself. I don’t know if I can fully comprehend the power I have, which even recording this show is an example of, but I am grateful for it.
I don’t need to remind you of this, of cell phones, the internet, of streaming services. That’s why I’m instead reminding you that, for a mere 55 cents, you can write on a piece of paper, put it in a box, and it will end up wherever you wanted it to go (assuming that the ‘where’ is within the boundaries of the US, and you wrote the address correctly). It’s incredible! And it still matters today – in the 2020 election, millions of people voted by mail. And moving from concrete examples of its importance to the theoretical, mail is foundational to our understanding of modern communication across distances: we call the aural messages left on an answering machine voicemail; written messages that appear in your inbox are electronic mail.
I am prompted to share this meditation on mail because on February 20, 1792, George Washington signed the Postal Service Act into law, creating a department responsible for the national system of mail delivery. During the Jackson administration of the 1830s, the Post Office department grew with employees mostly consisting of political supporters of the party in power. Beginning in 1829, the Postmaster General was a Cabinet-level position, lasting until 1971 when the Post Office Department was dissolved and the USPS was created.
There is, as is usual with these themes, so much more to the story than what I have included here. But I am less interested in the history of the Postal Service than I am in what it does. Every day, hundreds of thousands of human beings perform a choreographed dance that brings a little bit of paper – a wedding invitation, a letter of condolences, a birthday card – from one part of the country to another. And in a world where so much is fleeting, the focus on physical connection is an achievement worth celebrating. So, our theme for episode 5 of Community Radio is the Postal Service.
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