Irv Osterer is to be commended for challenging high school students to design stamps and related products. While it is debatable how many, if any, of his young charges will actually turn into commercial stamp artists or collectors, he nonetheless is reaching out to a group of young people. As a parent, I know that many of these people not only don’t collect stamps, they don’t even use them. I know that the only mail my children receive is official correspondence such as a new driver’s licence or a new health card. Other than that, they receive their mobile phone bills by email or text, and communicate with each other electronically. Even email is somewhat slow and tedious in this day of instant text messages, and is only used for lengthy or longer forms of communication.
My daughter even filed her college application over the Internet, using electronic files and links for everything from transcripts to residency information. I thought about this, and can only recall one instance for any one of my three children actually mailing a letter and using a stamp. My youngest child is 19, and so a couple of years older than Irv’s charges. The Grade 11 students of today are even less likely to use stamps. The truth is, stamps are not all that relevant. Because of my position here, my children are probably more aware of stamps than most of their peers. What’s more, with regular post offices closing all over Canada, I doubt many young people even know where to buy a stamp. This is all just a sign of the times. There is little doubt in my mind that we cannot stop the steady erosion of stamp use. The world is all about instant communication. Heck, even the genteel thank-you card, once the sign that someone took a few minutes and exercised their best penmanship, is being done electronically. Even electronic communication has the same challenge.
Today the rage is all about Facebook, but there was a time when MySpace was the king of social media, and before that it was MSN. In a world of Twitter, tweets, and instant messaging and texts, even two-day first-class mail seems to truly live up to the nickname of snail mail. The answer lies in initiatives such as Irv’s which at least exposed students with an interest in art to postage stamps. The other direction we are going now, is Canada Post’s use of apps, which makes the sending of a souvenir postcard as quick and easy as sending an email. As we move into the future, that may be all that survives of postage stamps. No longer the day-to-day work-horses of communications, they will become something special. A way to create a permanent souvenir, or mark a special event. When the first postage stamps came out, the arrival of a letter was often a very special and unusual event. Perhaps, in a few years, that will be the same case for the youngsters who last year designed stamps because their high school art teacher gave them a project.