The first message ever sent over the internet was just two letters: L O. It was supposed to be 'Login' but the link failed. In a way, I'm glad the connection stopped the message at 'lo' – it seems much more fitting, more poetic. Lo the internet was born.
In honor of that, I'd like to invite you to send a letter carried by a horse along the path of that first message. Should you choose to send one, your letter's journey would start, not on the trail, but relayed from computer to computer. Sending a letter with Slow Mail combines California's dual frontiers: its pioneering, romantic western one and its digital one.
On October 29th, 1969, the 'lo' message traveled almost instantaneously over the 350ish miles that separate from the senders of the message at UCLA. Turn the clock back about 120 years to the time of California statehood and it would have taken the same message about 15 days carried on horseback over the Camino Real.
These days, it takes even longer to carry messages on horseback through California. Cross country travel today is much more suited to cars than to horses, so horses must take the long way around. Getting in and out of cities turns out to be the most time consuming part. California's urban areas are not built with horses in mind; in some cases they strictly forbid them on public streets and city trails. To make the entire trip between Menlo Park and Los Angeles delivering letters on horseback, I'm estimating about two to three months – depending on how many cities the riders stop at along the way.
It's a lot to plan, so Slow Mail is kicking off with a Pilot Ride this September 12th - 15th covering the first leg of the journey between Menlo Park and San Jose. Anyone can send a letter on this ride – your recipient just has to be present in San Jose on the 15th to receive it.
All of this is really inspired by some essential questions about how we communicate. If you knew your letter would take two weeks to reach your friend, what would you write? What if it took two months? Thanks to digital innovations made right in Menlo Park's backyard, that's a very different question than it was for Menlo Park's first residents. Faced with the incredibly wide range of communication options available to you, what does it mean to choose the slower, more elaborate method?
In the same way that the Slow Food movement asks that we consider the entire lifecycle that brought the food to our dinner plate, I see Slow Mail as an opportunity to consider the entire lifecycle and journey of our correspondence. I'm hoping that Slow Mail gives letter writers an occasion to slow down and savor their communication.
Pilot Ride Details:
Visit http://sslow.net to send a letter. Postage is $5.
Letters may be posted in person at the Send-Off event which will be held at Stanford's Red Barn from 9-9:30am on the 12th. It is located at 100 Electioneer Rd, Stanford.
The Mail Call event will take place at 2pm on Saturday; it is hosted by the ZERO1 Biennial.
Sara Thacher is a culture engineer at Nonchalance.