Tuesday, October 30, 2012

lost letter experiments

It seems that the lost letter has not lost its place in the world of research. Recently, anthropologists from UCL published an article in PlosOne where they used the lost letter technique to measure altruism. 300 hand addressed, stamped letters were dropped on London pavements, on rain-free days (hmm, not often then!). Their results showed that the wealthier the neighbourhood the more likely the letter would be returned. This is a finding which does of course have the potential to lead to negative stereotypes about kindness towards strangers, but can also be argued to point to some of the complex circumstances shaping everyday life in these neighbourhoods.

What does posting a lost letter show? The lost letter technique was first used in the 1960s by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram (of six-degrees-of-separation fame), as a perfect way to examine altruistic behaviour. His initial experiments involved leaving letters addressed to  favourable organisations and stigmatised organisations, finding that the former received more returned letters. The UCL experimenters were more controlled in the handwritten address, with the same gender neutral name on every letter, but it is interesting that the method itself is still used in research, despite the decline in posting letters.

Image from Diesel Punks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

the small world of pneumatics

As weird geographical chance would have it, I just happened to be two offices down from Christine, whose family owns a pneumatic tube system company in Germany.

The company is called HÖRTIG rohrpost, and is based in Bayreuth. They have been installing pneumatic tubes since the 1960s, into a variety of places such as hospitals, supermarkets, pharmacies and cinemas. Each system is tailor-made for its location, using innovative technologies. One of their latest developments is the CargoPlus model which has a diameter of 500mm and can take material up to 50kg. The company are also taking part in a project regarding the underground movement of cargo, while also expanding their horizons to China and other Asian countries.

The company showcases their work at various trade fairs, which Christine told me she remembered attending when she was younger, where they have elaborate displays, with tubing hanging from scaffolding. I hope to speak with other members of this family-run business in the future, find out more about how their systems are being tailored for hospitals and other buildings, in Europe and in Asia, and maybe even attend a trade fair to see this stall and learn more about this fascinating industry.

Images of a hospital system and tube with an X-Ray from the company website.