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Can postcards survive in the digital age?

  • Story Highlights
  • Postcards were once the favorite way of documenting our holidays
  • The postcard was invented in the U.S. and its heyday was in the 1930s and 40s
  • In recent years travellers have turned to blogs and emails to keep in touch
  • CNN wants to know if you still send postcards, leave a comment below
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By Paul Willis
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Nothing says "Wish you were here" quite as well as the good old postcard.

Is the electronic age throwing sand in the face of the traditional postcard? Tell CNN Business Traveller what you think in the Sound Off box below.

Is the electronic age throwing sand in the face of the traditional postcard? Tell CNN Business Traveller what you think in the Sound Off box below.

Once a quintessential element in the travel experience, crafting a 10-line missive for the folks back home (saucy for the colleagues at work, respectful to the relatives) was as much a part of your two-week break as sunburn and sandals.

However, thanks to the online revolution many of us are choosing to document our travels via the Internet.

The growth of travel blogs and social networking sites like Facebook has led to a profusion of blogs packed with photos, video clips and every conceivable detail of our travels.

The host Web site TravelBlog, for example, has over 80,000 members with 100 more joining each day. Meanwhile, the independent travel company STA Travel's travel blog has expanded to 60,000 blog entries in just three years.

Celia Pronto, STA Travel's marketing director, says the appeal of blogs among travelers is due not only to their convenience but also because they allow the readers to join in the conversation.

"You can create this social environment with a blog that wasn't possible before," Pronto says. "Friends and family can not only read diary entries but they can respond, and so become part of the story.

"It also allows travelers to reach a much wider audience than the simple postcard. It's a nice way to keep in touch."

So where does this online explosion leave the humble postcard? Well, the situation is not as dire as you might think. According to the Royal Mail, which runs Britain's postal service, many of us still retain a fond attachment to tradition, with postcards more popular today than they were five years ago.

The service says it is processing around 135 million postcards every year, an increase of 30 million over just three years.

This is good news for postcard aficionado Drene Brennan. The 80-year-old is the founder member of the Postcard Club of Great Britain, amassing a collection of 95,000 over 50 years before she sold most of it off a few years ago.

She says the wonders of e-technology are no replacement for the simple pleasure of waking up to find a postcard on your doormat.

"I started collecting in 1957 and I've been hooked ever since," she says. "Postcards are personal, they show you've been thinking about someone. You have to pick the right one, and then sit down and consider that person, what message you want to write to them."

Her views are shared by many CNN Business Traveller readers who wrote in in praise of the medium via our Sound Off box.

"The pictures are great, and it's a nice souvenir, plus you have something fun in the mail when you get home, besides all the bills that accumulated while you were away," commented Velvet in a post.

Silvia added: "E-mail is great but is effortless. When I get a postcard from a friend it makes me feel so special. They made the extra effort to pick out one just for me, physically write on it and send it off."

It's certainly true that postcards retain that personal touch missing from many blogs and group emails, which can sometimes feel like an exercise in self-indulgence with their reams of text and scores of pictures detailing the minutiae of Jeff's diving holiday in Ecuador.

With the passing of time postcards have also become a part of our history, windows on a bygone world. Patented in the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, the first postcard was created for the world fair in Chicago in 1893.

In Britain, it enjoyed its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s with the growth of seaside holiday resorts. "Saucy" postcards containing cartoon-style images with bawdy messages on them were hugely popular until Donald McGill, who designed many of the most famous ones, was charged with obscenity leading to many retailers cancelling orders.

In spite of the Royal Mail figures Drene Brennan, whose own area of interest is Walt Disney postcards, fears the penned postcard may become consigned to the history books in the not too distant future.

A CNN straw pole of tourists in central London seemed to confirm these suspicions, with most of those questioned preferring electronic media to keep in touch with loved-ones.

And even for those who admitted to buying the occasional postcard, the effort of actually sending them was sometimes a bridge too far. Richard, a shopper on London's Oxford Street said: "I bought two postcards in Sweden last week but I didn't actually send them. It's just the effort. I have to sit down, find a pen and post them and everything.


"In the end I came back and gave them as gifts."

Send us your comments:
Do you still enjoy sending and receiving postcards or do you feel they are out of date and inconvenient in today's electronic age? When did you last send a postcard and who to? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

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