The Quest for a Slower Kind of Mail

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Friday, Aug 5, 2011  |  Updated 3:48 PM PDT
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Keeping Snail Mail Alive

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There once was a time when people communicated using a thing called “a letter.” For you history buffs, that’s back before IM’ing, texting, Facebooking, tweeting, etc.

Though he was born in that latter tech generation, Ivan Cash is nostalgic for the old ways when people still put pen to paper. On July 15th,  the San Francisco man launched a month-long project to spread his love of “snail mail.”

The project is appropriately titled “Snail Mail My Email.” The way it works is, people can send Cash an email of up to 100 words, and his team of volunteers will hand write a letter and mail it to the recipient. Volunteers pick up the postage. 

“I don’t think it’s an ideal way of having other people write letters for you,” said Cash. “But it is a way of easily allowing people to experience that feeling you get when you receive a letter.”

Since starting the project several weeks ago, Cash has enlisted 134 volunteers around the world who’ve mailed out more than 2,500 letters. In a living room in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, Cash and a group of friends sat in a circle transforming emails into handwritten notes. 

There were love letters from husbands to wives; a poem from a father to a son – a letter from a woman to her grandmother letting her know her injured ribs had healed. One volunteer wrote-out a "Dear John" letter intended for an unfortunate recipient in Australia: “Dear Thomas,” it said. “I don’t think it’s working out. Sorry, I think it’s time we ended things.”

Cash smiled at the words, and said he hoped it was a joke.

“We’ve definitely gotten letters from parents to their infant children,” he said. “Saying ‘hey this might be the only snail mail you get.’”

While the old-fashioned letter writing isn’t dead, it may be on life-support. The U.S. Postal Service recently announced major nationwide cutbacks as email continued to replace the printed word.

Even some of Cash’s volunteers admitted the letter writing campaign was forcing them to dust off forgotten handwriting skills. 

“I think one time I had a class in college where the assignment was to write a letter,” recalled volunteer Andy Dao. “And I don’t think I even did that.”

Dao’s admission brought laughter from the group of 20-something volunteers who constantly consulted their laptops as they wrote out the letters. The project guidelines allow people to request drawings, a splash of perfume or the petals of flowers. One woman folded a letter into a requested origami crane, another pressed her freshly colored lips onto a note. 

“I think the success of this project, to me, shows how receptive people are to going back to a physical, tangible slowed-down alternative," Cash said.

At the same time, volunteers acknowledged the irony of enlisting a group of strangers to write-out someone’s intimate message. 

“It’s fun to be able to put your own personal touch on somebody else’s personal thoughts,” Amy Foote, a volunteer said.

Cash hoped that the project, which ends Aug. 15, will remind people of the excitement of finding something in the mailbox -- beside junk mail and bills -- even if the personal touch, did get a little third-party help.
                
To participate in the project, go to snailmailmyemail.org.
 

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