Real snail mail

December 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Posted in waffle | Leave a comment

Snail with RFID tag attached to its shell

Yesterday I was surprised and delighted to receive a thank-you email from a friend in response to an email I sent him over four years ago by Real Snail Mail, the “world’s first webmail service using live snails”. This is an art project that aims to get us to reflect on the impact that the speed of email communications and the expectation of an immediate response by deliberately slowing down the whole process. Messages sent using the service zip at the speed of light along the fibre-optic nerves of the internet to their server, where they join a queue and wait… and wait… and wait. Real snails live their slow lives in an artificial garden, and every now and again one passes over a pick-up point. If the RFID chip attached to their shell is empty, they pick up 10 emails. At some later point in their monopedal journey they will pass over a drop-off point which retrieves those messages and once again accelerates them to the speed of light on their way to the inboxes of the recipients. The project is currently exhibiting with a new enclosure in Maribor, Slovenia as part of the Soft Control: Art,Science and the Technological Unconscious Exhibition. The 30 snails recruited as digital postmen (and postwomen – although it is difficult to tell with snails) have significantly increased the bandwidth of the system and so now at last my message reached the front of the queue and was diligently (but slowly) carried across the garden by Agent 167 aka ‘Cvetko’ and delivered in around 18 days. Thanks!

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