I make adventure

Slow Mail

In Making Things, Projects, Shameless Self Promotion on 8 • 13 • 12 at 8:00 am

Start the drum roll. Quietly, over the weekend I launched a new project. It’s called Slow Mail.

The yellow twist-y thing in the logo is a ‘diamond hitch’ – it’s one of several knots used to secure the load on a packhorse.

It combines two topics near and dear to my heart:

  • the early days of the internet – back when it was known as ARPANET
  • backcountry horsepacking and trail riding

California is my adopted state, but even as a transplant, I’ve always loved its dual frontiers. On one side, there’s the romantic western pre-railroad frontier. When the west was The West. When riding a horse was the quickest way to travel on land. Fast forward a little over a hundred years and another type of pioneer sprouts up: the tinkerers who built some of our early computers and first thought it might be a good idea to link them together in some kind of network.

Roger Pocock (a noted backcountry horseman) and his packhorse. Circa 1899

Slow Mail wraps these two ideas together. It’s a relay of riders and packhorses carrying mail between Menlo Park and Los Angeles – the two points between which the first message was ever sent over ARPANET. It’s a little like the short-lived pony express, but much slower. Riders will be crossing backcountry trails along the coasts of California, and they’ll mostly be doing it at a walk.

Whose mail will they be carrying? It could be yours. Anyone can send a letter over Slow Mail – your recipient just has to be present at one of the stops along the route to pick it up.

One of the two computers first connected to ARPANET, the SDS Sigma 7

You can probably tell just from the brief description above that this is a huge project. Its logistics have logistics of their own! In the spirit of learning how to walk before I gallop, I’m starting with a ‘Pilot Ride.’ It begins in Menlo Park and ends in San Jose – and it needs YOUR letters. On September 15th the ZERO1 Biennial (who are also kindly funding the Pilot Ride) will host the first ‘Mail Call’ at which the letters will be distributed.

If you already know someone in or near San Jose, write to them! If you live in the Bay Area and want a pen pal, wave your hands (you know, digital hand-waving – like a post on your favorite social network).

If you want to follow news of the project, I’ll be tweeting from @slow_mail. So come over to slowmail and kick the tires and bask in glow of my ascii art. I’d love to hear what you think.