An argument for replacing my cheap prepaid cellphone with a camera-phone could be made from my new fascination with telephone pole flyers. Those handbills and posters, once so ubiquitous here in Seattle, were banned back in the pre-Internet '90s. There's a nice little account here, with reference to then city attorney Mark Sidran, who used the issue to make an unsuccessful run at the mayor's office.
Are there more or less handbills, posters, and flyers on telephone poles today? Whenever I halt my bike at a red light or stop sign, I always look to see what, if anything, is posted. That's where the camera-phone comes in: It's a lot easier to make note of the hand-lettered yard sale sign, cryptic political slogan, or lost pet appeal by snapping a photo of it. Technology both has and hasn't outmoded the old telephone pole idiom. Once--and I'm dating myself--that was the primary means for bands to promote themselves. (Hence the municipal poster ban, kind of a belated, backhanded response to the grunge explosion.) Today there's MySpace and other social networking sites, which would seem to be a much easier and more effective means of reaching fans and getting them into clubs. Then there's CraigsList for yard sales and the like, eBay for old lawn mowers.
But not everyone owns a computer; not everyone maintains a Web site or MySpace page. Handbills still occupy a niche, often an emergency role. They're a little bit like the old shopping lists and lost diary pages that turn up in Found magazine and its anthologies published by Davy Rothbart.
Not everyone perusing the Web is looking for your lost cat. At the intersection of Madison and MLK, I recently saw a handbill offering a $1,000 for a beloved runaway feline.
Days later, at MLK and Jackson, there was a flyer seeking the return of a full set of bagpipes that had been car-prowled some distance away. Clearly the distraught musician was posting all over the CD to recover his instrument.
In both cases, I wish I'd snapped a photo. Then I could've posted those appeals here. Even then, however, I'm not sure they would've reached the intended audience. Technology has its limits, and handbills still get tacked to those wooden poles.