THE POSTAL AGE - Book Report/Review Example

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The Postal Age In the musical “The Music Man,” there’s a scene in which the entire town is excited about the arrival of the “Wells Fargo Wagon.” They sing, “It could be bringing somethin’ special just for me.” Even though the musical is set in the early 1900s, it accurately depicts what had happened during the previous century in the United States: the social connection of an entire nation through the postal service…
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Download file to see previous pages For Hankin, it wasn’t the internet or telephone that created the habits and experiences of interconnectedness that is such a big part of modern life, but the postal system of the 1840s through the 1860s. This is a real cultural transformation, similar to the one we are currently experiencing with the growth of the internet and social networking, but unlike ours, Henkin does not attribute it to any technological breakthrough. The postal system, he explains, was not a new invention in the nineteenth century; rather, thanks to cheaper postage (made possible by Congress significantly reducing the cost of sending in letter in 1845 and 1851) and an increase in the mobility and literacy of the nation. At first it was a broadcast medium that disseminated printed news, but by the mid-1800s, it became an interactive network of personal letters and packages, much like the items that caused so much excitement with the townsfolk of “The Music Man.” The first part of Hankin’s book describes this transformation. Henkin is careful to point out in the beginning of his book, that as people today use their computers for very different reasons, people in the nineteenth century used the post for very different reasons. ...
Hankin explains this change in the context of many of the events of the nineteenth century, when more Americans than ever before were more mobile and more literate. These events include the 1849 Gold Rush in California and the Civil War. Both events resulted in scores of people, mostly men, leaving home for the first time, but with the expectation that they would eventually return. They used the postal service to keep their place intact back home, and to keep connected with their friends and family. Chapter 2 of The Postal Age describes the “democratization of the postal service”; Hankin insists that the postal service in the nineteenth century epitomized the ideals of the nation’s founding fathers. He does not mention it, but it is interesting that many are saying the same thing about the internet, especially since the revolutions that have occurred in the Middle East in 2011—that it embodies the ideals of the American Revolution because it encourages the (mostly) free interchange of ideas. The chapter also describes how the postal service changed from a way to disseminate news to more personal purposes—the exchange of letters and packages between individuals. This process seems to parallel the development of the internet, which began as a way to disseminate information between scientists and government officials to the development of the personal computer and social networking. Another interesting point Hankin makes is that the opening up of the postal service changed the way people wrote. By the end of the nineteenth century, the most common form of writing became the letter. The parallels to contemporary life are striking; the most common ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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