Wednesday, 8 August 2012

You Can Telephone All Over the World

I had another go at creating a collage card this weekend, and the above was the result. It was made using a 1960s editions of National Geographic with an advertising slogan from a 1964 edition - "You can telephone all over the world" underlined by a much more recent satellite image. But what a quaint slogan! So anachronistic in today's world. But it got me thinking.

Ross Coulter
Ross Coulter,  10 000 Paper Planes - Aftermath via Centre for Contemporary Photography
On the weekend I went to this wonderful exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography and heard several artists talk about their work. One of the artists was Ross Coulter, and his photographs depicted the aftermath of a performance art piece involving 10,000 paper planes being launched into the domed reading room at the State Library of Victoria. Now, for starters, the domed reading room is one of my favourite places. But, more than that, I loved Coulter's photographs because there was something incredibly compelling about the inherent rebellion in 10,000 paper planes being strewn across that hallowed space reserved for hushed tones and studious concentration. The photographs are big (156 x 200cm), glossy and wonderful.

Coulter explained during his floor talk that he worked at the SLV in 1999, right at that time when email was transforming the way we communicate with one another. The computer age was dawning, and Coulter described the paper planes as, in a way, symbolising the transmission of an idea through space. He was also asking a question about the role of libraries into the future, as we move from the analogue past into the digital future.

When I came across the Bell Telephone Company's 1964 slogan "You can telephone all over the world" that night after hearing Coulter's talk, it made me think of the cutting edge of communication - an international telephone call was a big deal in the sixties; and we were still adjusting to sending emails in the 1990s. How times have changed! Which is exactly what Australia Post was trying to capture in their "Then and Now" stamp release from earlier this year.

Actually, I think the stamps are a little ugly.  Despite the fact I have strict (ok, lax) rules about not collecting ugly stamps, I had to have them, because they had a cool gutter strip (and I love a good gutter strip). But really, the best way to find out about the "then" (as opposed to the "now") is to go directly to the source by looking at stamps issued at the time. So check out this fantastic stamp from 1985 visualising Electronic Mail:

Don't those triangles resemble Coulter's paper planes zooming through the aether, though his had landed and these are mid flight? It is such a space age image. I love it. So that is how Electronic Mail was imagined in 1985. 1985! Very cutting edge.

Could Australia Post have possibly imagined the transformative nature of e-mail for their industry at that point in time? I don't think so. I think at that point Australia Post might have presumed that they would be delivering, in some capacity, those electronic mails, and this 1985 stamp was advertising that futuristic hope.

So, as we ponder the roles of libraries and postal services as technology races ahead into the future, I think (and hope), for the time being at least, there are enough bibliophiles and philatelists (read: nerds) to keep these historic and vital institutions alive. And we can only imagine what people in thirty years might think of our communication practices today! Maybe our dependence on emails will be laughably quaint. Who knows?? Lets just hope that there are still postage stamps for us to gaze at, decipher and treasure.


  1. Lovely musings H, though I know I have been more e-mail dependant in the last 14 months and not such a good old fashioned post sender, I am the proud owner of five library cards in four countries (Scotland x 2, Italy, Canada and Australia) and I think you need to come check out the Edinburgh reading rooms!

  2. What a glorious end to one of the most tedious work days in the history of modern man. Thank you Helen.


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