Listen to this 99% Invisible podcast.

I have a couple of theories about why pneumatic tubes are magic. I think they inspire wonder because they’re alive or it feels like they’re alive. They’re reaching out through the city they have tendrils and tentacles and they breathe and they throw things up and they feel much much bigger than we are. I also think they inspire wonder because they manifest communication. For us today, when we think of communication, all the 1’s and 0’s and digital things that we move don’t feel real tangible to us anymore. but i also think that they felt pretty magical to people back then too, that they were electrical and breathing networks of communication. You could scent a handkerchief and send it to your loved one via pneumatic tube, and it would still smell like you. So I think that we’re romantic as well and I think that’s part of the wonder today too.

So in a sense they’re both alive and mechanical. both high and low tech. and there’s also something to be said about the journey of a tube canister. You can imagine it snaking its way through these underground passageways, carrying your message. And so this idea of being able to go somewhere where you wouldn’t otherwise be able to go is amazing.

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