Rebecca Ross (Central Saint Martins), ‘London’s Postcode: Addressing People and Machines’
Friedrich Kittler, in his 1984 essay, “The City is a Medium,” defines addresses as, “data which allow other data to appear.” Starting with this wide conceptualization of addressing, this paper places a consideration of the historic development of London’s postcode into dialogue with an analysis of the contemporary role it plays.
London’s postcode pre-dates the mechanization of mail sorting and yet it is a device that continues to grow in utility and visibility. It originates in 1856 when London is divided into ten postal sorting districts with corresponding abbreviations to be employed by customers in the addressing of mail. The early 21st century London postcode is meaningful and useful to people but also sufficiently precise for mechanical and digital systems to process. Today’s postcode can be found everywhere from transport to retail to government, in medicine and law, in the names of publications and bands and dance clubs and gangs, on smart phones, as well as at the center of gentrification processes and regeneration schemes.
In particular, in this paper, the example of London’s postcode serves as the basis for revisiting Vilém Flusser’s distinction between alphabetic and encoded media. Flusser argues that where encoded media, such as images, are fixed or complete, the alphabet requires that meaning is constantly and continuously reconstructed and thus scaffolds the development of human thought, and historical consciousness. Whilst inseparable from its specific history and relationship to the particularities of London, this paper values the London postcode as a unique example of a type of addressing that interlaces the alphabetic with the encoded and considers its broader significance for broader cultures and protocols of addressing.
Rebecca Ross works across fields including graphic design, media studies and urbanism. Current and recent projects include London is Changing, displayed on digital billboards around Central London during February and March 2015; Urban Pamphleteer, co-edited with Ben Campkin since 2013; and a manuscript in progress on the London postcode. Ross is Senior Lecturer and MA Course Leader in Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins and Honorary Research Fellow at the University College London Urban Laboratory. She holds a PhD in Urban History and Theory from Harvard. an MSc in Human Geography from UCL, and an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale.