The Snail Mail My Email project ends tomorrow, and while it certainly wouldn’t have been practical to keep up indefinitely—experience bears out the fact that you can only get people to work for free for so long, no matter how much fun it is—I would have loved to see it grow and morph over a few months, even a year.
The project originated on a whim, the brainchild of artist and designer Ivan Cash He put out a call for people to submit email messages of no more than 100 words, along with their intended recipient’s physical address, and he and his crew would transcribe and send them via envelope and stamp, free of charge. It went viral quickly, both in terms of submissions and volunteers—as the email rolled in, letter writers and coordinators from all over the world stepped up as well. As far as the mail he’s received to illuminate, its been a glimpse into a certain kind of warmth and intimacy that people don’t always entrust to email. As he told the Wall Street Journal,
The letters we’ve received are very much emotional based—a lot of love letters, letters that offer encouragement. Email is like wishing someone happy birthday on Facebook. There’s dryness and superficiality. When people know their writing will be transcribed, that does affect what they write about.
The project’s photostream offers up a representative sampling: love letters to spouses and sweethearts, but also between friends (“You are a righteous dude. Sometimes life gets in the way and we forget to say it, but I just wanted to take a moment and say, yes, you are totally gnarly and radical”), from parents to children and vice versa, an acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and an illustrated penis enlargement spam—a bit of email that’s thankfully never made it to snail mail before this. I would have loved to see some other genres played with—a job application (or rejection letter), an interoffice meeting confirmation, political fundraising, a query, a pitch.
And of course there’s what we can take away from Cash’s good-natured experiment: Writing it out by hand and sticking it in an envelope is good, means something extra, makes the act of communication—something so easy to take for granted these days—into something of an art form. My last post about writing postcards already netted me a new pen pal. Letter writing is a pay-it-forward avocation. Snail Mail My Email might be over with, but there’s no reason the idea behind it has to end anytime soon—so go for it.