Pen to paper

Yesterday I ran a lecture at the university on the future of reading, and when we discussed the future, so many responses were of a sentimental variety. A typical response from the students looked like this

Nice technology, very impressive that we should be able to use Kindle to store 1500 books, access all the information on the internet that we desire, and take notes, thus overcoming the need to carry around a library. Would be great when traveling, would lighten my suitcase immeasurably. I still prefer books though...

There is a sentimentality about the printed or written word and looking around the internet we see many people mourning the loss of this form of documentation.

However, one of my arguments was that with all the newspapers going out of business, how many people actually went out and put their money where their mouths were and bought newspapers rather than reading bbc news or the awesome new Guardian news site.

We may well bleat on about how much we are going to miss the humble corner shop and high street pharmacy, but who really honestly forgoes their convenience supermarket shopping in exchange.

Not many it seems.

The same is true of REAL letters and real diary keeping.

The amazing wwar1 blog of letters from World War 1 just may not be possible in the next 90 years. The diary of Anne Frank would certainly be a non-starter. Who writes these days anyway?

This is of course not all bad, as we instead get the much more immediate fix of great writing, like Salam Pax reporting from Iraq during the 2003 invasion. Amusing and scary at the same time and all the more so because we could see it all happening.

So partly, the REAL wall project is a challenge to try to make people aware that when it comes down to it, putting pen to paper is more than just a nice notion but is something that requires effort, time and attention. It's part social experiment to see how the real interacts with the virtual, and to see how people feel about the exposure of their imperfections in writing, as letters are a fundamentally imperfect medium.

Lately, I've been trawling the internet for people who might want to post me REAL letters lately, and it's quite a revelation. Lots of searches for "penpals", "letters" and related terms and there does seem to be a feeling of general loss at the loss of this medium of communication.

The ads, I've placed everywhere and have only received a single response. Despite the talk of sentimental attachment to writing there is a reticence to actually put pen to paper. Of course, what I'm proposing is not the classic writing that people think about when trying to find a penpal and there is certainly an element of exhibitionism that goes into this too. Even though I've offered to physically write back to contributors I've not yet received that many responses.

The subculture of people looking for penpals on the internet is really interesting though and deserves a little summary.

When you type in a search for penpals, you will be confronted by a load of free sites that feature teenagers. There seems to be very few people of my age (23-35) who want to write REAL letters. Loads and loads of teenage girls. It's quite scary actually and makes me feel a bit wrong.

After that there are the prolific writers, who will write to almost anyone about anything. Not really sure I understand this group either but respect to them. I guess that it's very difficult to understand this breed in today's society, where we don't want to send something to people because we still want to own it ourselves. The idea of writing a letter and not having a copy in your sent items is like letting a dove go every time that never comes back.

There are also a group of writers who just do email. Not the type I was looking for really, but I guess that still falls into the category of penpal. When I saw this type though, I couldn't help thinking that if I wanted to talk to complete strangers online I may as well have stayed on facebook, as I haven't seen most of my "friends" on there for so long they may as well be, and anyway I've always been crap at starting conversation.

So far the group I was after, the off the wall (well alright ON the wall), artistic
and exhibitionist writer/photographer/artist was nowhere to be found.

So I've been thinking laterally today, and instead of going for more angsty postfrom teenage girls (which wouldn't be such a bad thing) I decided to look all over the more specialist fora.

Straight over to the penpals for prisoners sites then today, and some disability forums for people with no arms or legs. I think that using my REAL wall to draw attention to certain issues would be really cool, and I would be well intereted in looking at the angles of people from diverse social backgrounds.

Any further ideas on this welcome.

PS - Anyone know how to get in touch with political prisoners, celebrities etc?
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