The Regrettable Death of the Passport Stamp

Guest post by Patrick:

I try not to collect material things.  In a few ways I’ve failed.  Sharks teeth, yes.  Camera lenses, double yes.  But otherwise, I really try not to.  The ideal version of myself avoids the mass-consumerism that defined the 90’s and eventually caused the housing crisis. I don’t always live up to that ideal version, but I try to.

All that said, one material thing I do love to collect are passport stamps.

It starts in line at immigration.  Off the plane, immediately into the queue;  You’re always nervous, but never sure why: “What if I am carrying drugs??” “Did I accidentally pack a container of foreign soil?” “What counts as a ‘farm animal’?”  And, derivatively: ‘What if because I’m nervous they think I’m hiding something!?”  Then they call you forward. You blackout while they ask some questions, and wooshhhhh-whack-click!  They stamp your passport and hand it back.  It’s over!  You’re in!  You did it!  No more travel, no more lines – you can now relax and start enjoying where you are.  I’ll argue there is no better sound than that stamp hitting the paper.

And what does everyone do while waiting in line in immigration?  You can’t use your phone. You’re definitely bored of talking to your travel companions by then.  But you do have your passport – you can read that, and you do… every time.  Page by page, the longer the line the slower you read, and it’s a great read too.  Each stamp is a mental journey back to a trip somewhere in your past.   No novel will take you to as many places in as short of time, with as much detail and authenticity, as your own passport will.

My first stamp came from the Turks and Caicos Islands; a blue square box only half legible (as they almost always are).   A single stamp on 24 blank pages.  I’ve looked at that stamp a hundred times since, and each time I’m transported back to being 19 and traveling to the Caribbean for the first time in my life – completely unaware of what wonders await outside of the borders of the United States.   

I’ve got more stamps now, but the feeling is the same for each stamp.  Some trips were great, others I wouldn’t repeat, but I’ll keep my stamp thank you.  Proof that I lived.

Earlier this month we entered Australia.  ePassport.  eStamp.  What am I going to do with that?  You can’t look at an eStamp – you can’t flip through the pages of a book filled with invisible, electronic stamps.  There’s no memory there – no recall mechanism.  My passport will forever be lacking any sign of visiting Australia.  An omission will be my only reminder.   This was my first encounter with the inevitable move towards a digital passport future.  But it is an encounter that I’m sure will become more common over my lifetime.

There is no answer for this.  ePassports make way more sense; it’s what we should and will do – it has created faster and safer immigration and the world is moving to a digital future.  But at least for me, there will be more that’s missing besides some ink on a page.

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