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Dead medium: Paris pneumatic mail
From: (Alan Wexelblat)
Source(s): 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.

Alan Wexelblat moderator,
MIT Media Lab - Intelligent Agents Group