Update This post has been edited to take out the email address and make the project sound like something that IS happening rather than COULD happen in theory – now that Ive got more than enough people to send postcards to. Thank you, to everyone who emailed. And also to all who will hopefully follow the project as it happens now, here and/or on the miniblog about it
As I may have mentioned, Im going on a train trip in the middle of September. Its half way between writing break and holiday – using the time to get a lot of work done while watching 7000 miles of America slide past the window, and getting to see some of the country Ive wanted to see while I have the chance.
But me being me, I cant just leave it there. I have to have a project to give a structure to my trip. And this one? This project I happen to be VERY excited about.
Let me tell you more.
While being very much a person of the web, Ive been obsessed with classic travel writing for quite some time. Guidebooks and professional newspaper travel writing and maps are part of it, but mainly its the art of the travelogue that I love – a single person perspective on new sights and smells, characters met along the way and experiences particular to that person, in that place, at that precise time.
The thing about these documents is that they were actually very often letters to a family member or a trusted friend – a person who would receive the evocative, descriptive chapter of travelogue days or weeks after it was written, and days or weeks after the person had left that place.
What has been bugging me is how to blend that idea with the way that we are increasingly choosing to convey our sense of place and presence today – through status messages on Facebook, or check-ins on Foursquare or 140-character messages on Twitter, all fired off to a set of people that are often a wildly disparate mixture of family, friends, acquaintances, and random strangers.
I have no problem with this way of communicating. It isnt a complaint, just a difference I find interesting. Ive been using Twitter since late 2006, Facebook on and off for as long, and it intrigues me that someone Ive never met can elect to get a little update about how annoyed I am by someone eating a stinky bag of chips on the train seat next to mine.
So whats the plan?
I proposed that while Im actually on my journey (September 7-21) a bunch of people could elect to receive an update on how annoying the person eating smelly chips on the train next to me it.
No, wait, dont go. Its better than it sounds (or I think so anyway).
Theyll get it on a postcard.
Ill be travelling almost 7,000 miles, dipping in and out of mobile coverage, basically without internet, and with only so much battery to keep my electronic devices going. OMG, youre saying, how will you Twitter?
I know, right? I wont, very much. So heres what I am planning to do. Im going to put the little observations, vignettes, word-snapshots of my trip, and instead of firing them off to Twitter or Facebook or whatever, Im going to write them. On postcards. That was the short-form travelogue before social media, right?
And Ill be sending these updates, these postcards to people who have signed up and elected to receive them.
Ive committed to sending between and 10 and 20 postcards a day*, depending on the amount of updates there are that I would usually make online or otherwise put in a dusty notebook and stuff on a shelf, to an arbitrary 150 people (thats the amount of postcards I had printed), who emailed me over these last few days, and will now get a little sliver of travelogue in response.
The idea is that, when pieced together, the messages will form an overall picture of the journey, and have some kind of travel narrative. In actuality, theyll just be spread across the globe. They are short pieces of a longer journey – updates and glimpses that you would get from Twitter, but more personal and more tangible: an individually just a snatched moment out of context.
Im not saying Im more interesting than anyone else, or that the postcards will be ground breaking literature – just that this is part of our lives now, and part of the way we travel and communicate: just thrown together in a blender with the older, more traditional way.
They wont be super-personalised messages either, of course: Im not writing weather is lovely, wish you were here 200 times. These are very much going to be just little slices over a travelogue which put together might form a complete narrative, but which I take great pleasure in thinking of carved up and scattered all over the world in their initial state.
Ill take pictures of the postcards before I send them, but Im also asking people to scan it and send it back to me via email. If they want to do some other artistic depiction on it before they scan it, or take a picture of themselves in their corner of the world WITH it, that will also be fun. Or reply on a different postcard and send me a picture on that. Hopefully, some of them will send me back whatever they want, and/or a copy of what I wrote there.
Ill be writing longer sections of travelogue as I go, which I hope to slot between the postcards, threading them together and making the short status messages into a more comprehensive whole – but Ill decide what to do with all that later on. Some will go up here, the rest will be edited and rewritten into something, I think. Im open to suggestions.
As a way of tying this into the blog, Ill probably post a maximum of one of the days postcards per day of the trip to the Snailr Project website (cross-posted here) along with an extract of the other stuff Ive written on that leg of the journey. The rest will be saved to be read as a continuous narrative, collated all together and printed up – however that comes about.
So WHY is it called The Snailr Project, exactly?
Im not the only person by any means thinking of this process of making the dashed-off nature of things slower and more conscious. All round nice bloke Russell Davies and his Dawdlr project, for example, (to whom I will, incidentally, be sending one of my postcards). But though my Beloved keeps telling me repeatedly he despises this word snailr, it makes perfect sense to me in a lot of ways.
Why? Because the captured moments and little status message postcards will be rail mails, but sent by snail mail. And because were going in a big circular arc around the country. And because I like snails, and the feeling of being a mobile working person inside the shell of the train. And most of all (and this is reflected in some of the other things Ive talked about recently) I like the idea of leaving a physical trail of where Ive been, as widely distributed across the globe as that trail might be.
Oh, and its got an r at the end because, well, without some kind of kerrrr-AZY spelling, its just not Of The Web, is it?
How this progresses:
Well, theres a site dedicated to the project over here, where Ill hopefully be able to send things even when I dont have enough internet access to update this here blog. Theres a brief description and other collected bits about the whys and wherefores over there.
But really, how it progresses NOW is that:
1) People who wanted to be sent a postcard, a status update, a very short piece of travelogue, a tangible twitter or however you want to think of it, sent their postal addresses to me. But no more now, please Because I have more than enough addresses. Any more would be ridiculous.
2) I will go on a train trip.
3) I will send people a card. I think everyone who emailed will get sent a card, though whether they receive them is out of my hands. Ive only had printed enough postcards for about 10-15 a day. But I think that is good enough, as an amount for this length of project.
) Stuff will happen and be relayed back to this blog and snailrproject.com, and it will be ace.
Im really really excited about this project. I really hope people are too. Or at least understand why I am. Im going to shut up now.
*Probably not more 10 to 20 a day also because, well, frankly its an expensive enough wheeze as it is. I may put a small donation button back on the site for postage costs and postcard printing and things.