Fun_People Archive
26 Nov
Paris Pneumatic Mail

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 97 13:50:59 -0800
To: Fun_People
Precedence: bulk
Subject: Paris Pneumatic Mail

Forwarded-by: Bruce Sterling <>

	Dead medium:  Paris pneumatic mail

  From: (Alan Wexelblat)
Source:  Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet
         by Sherry Turkle  Touchstone Books 1997 ISBN 0684833484

Sherry Turkle's most recent book, *Life on the Screen* contains something
of a report on a dead medium which has been mentioned before on this list:
the French (Parisian) system of pneumatic tubes for letter delivery.

What I find interesting about this is (a) the recency of the report ==
Turkle lived in Paris in the early 60s; and (b) the specific use for which
this medium retained its relevance:

     "I stayed with a family [in Paris] who avoided the telephone for
 everything but emergency communications.  An intimate communication would
 go by *pneumatique.*  One brought (or  had delivered) a handwritten message
 to the local post office.  There, it was placed in a cannister and sent
 through a series of underground tubes to another post office.  It would
 then be hand delivered to its destination.

     "I was taught that the *pneumatique* was the favored medium for love
 letters, significant apologies, or requests for an important meeting.
 Although mediated by significant amounts of technology, the handwritten
 *pneumatique* bore the trace of the physical body of the person who sent
 it; it was physically taken from that person's hand and put into the hand
 of the person to whom it was sent.  The pneumatique's insistence on
 physical presence may have ill-prepared me for the lessons of
 postmodernism, but it has made e-mail seem oddly natural."

    As we delve into the reasons for a medium's death or disappearance, it
would be wise to keep in mind those media which deliver this sense of
physical presence and see if that (or something like it) is a factor in
media Darwinism.

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