What are your experiences with the Slowly app
Pen pals on the cell phone
When I received my first letter, I was sitting in the bar with colleagues. He was on the road from Australia for two days, because that's how the Slowly app works, which delivers messages with a delay.
The further away the recipient lives, the longer it will take. Now it is there: a letter from a stranger, longer than any WhatsApp message. The app is designed to bring the feel of pen pals into 2018, a type of relationship that seems to have died out.
Write a digital letter to a stranger?
Taking the first step and writing a digital letter on my mobile phone was not easy for me. What do I write to someone I don't even know? Because there are only fantasy names and no photos in the app, I remain anonymous. I don't need an address, instead everyone gives their home country. A message within Germany takes a few hours. Boring. Much better: Australia. It will take two days for my message to get there.
The letter on the display is more than a message. In contrast to Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram, I have to take time for him. For the first time I think again about what I am writing. Send a second message afterwards? Impossible. I choose my words consciously, because days go by after I click "Send".
The digital letter is thus a countermovement to our world in which everyone can be reached directly. Where does the desire to wait for a few written words come from? I seek the answer to this question by writing, waiting, and letting total strangers enter my mind.
Australia and the hundred characters
I stare at the white screen for a long time. "Hello Alison," it says so far. Much more than her name, and that she lives in Australia I don't know about her. I deleted my first sentences. The first letter must be at least a hundred characters long, so a simple "Hello" is not enough.
For me it is unfamiliar to write more to a stranger right at the beginning than the usual small talk. On Instagram and Facebook, I can look at pictures and texts from strangers before I get in touch with them. I know what they think, which places they have visited and whether they prefer to drink coffee or tea. The digital letter is all the more appealing because it starts from scratch.
I can write everything in, I think. After all, I will probably never run into the recipient of my message. So I write off and start by saying that I would never travel to Australia because of my panic about insects. I comment on the fact that too little time is invested in friendships these days and that many take them for granted. And I tell the stranger that I am sometimes selfish instead of giving preference to others. Without reading the text again, I hit send. In two days he will arrive.
One week later
When I get home from going to the pub a week later, I throw myself on the sofa and open the answer. Alison is actually from Canada and lives in the south of Australia. "Oh man, the insects here. I've lived here for almost two years and still haven't got used to them," she writes. It was not easy for her to leave her homeland to study medicine. In the meantime she has learned to love the country.
Because she rarely has contact with her friends in Canada, she can understand my thoughts about friendships. She often doesn't know what to do when friends suddenly turn away from her. "I experience it just like you. I only have a few friends who are all the more important to me. The number of friends is less important."
I read the letter several times over the next few days. I'll write my answer one afternoon in the café. Days and sometimes weeks pass before I hear from Alison again. "I loved reading your thoughtful letter." We talk about what else we want to achieve in life. She wants to see the northern lights, I want to travel all over Europe. Alcohol and partying, money problems, family.
You can tell everything to strangers
There are some things I don't want to talk to friends about, I can tell a stranger anything. It's the feeling of appreciation that makes digital pen pals so interesting. I am dealing with what I am writing again, quite the opposite of the brief answers to the constant stream of messages from friends and family. "Are you home on the weekend?" Yes mother. "Have you seen the new video?" I leave a lot of it unanswered.
In the coming weeks I will be sending several letters to users in Denmark, Indonesia, South Africa and the USA. I write in English and tell what comes to my mind. Days later I get answers from all over the world. One girl is happy that I want to learn Danish and has since incorporated a bit of German into every message. "I would like to be able to do a lot better."
A 26-year-old from Cape Town tells me how much he is bothered by stereotypes and racism. "Why do many think Africa is a country where everyone is backward?" And Dina from Bali invites me to explore her city when I make it to Indonesia. "Even for me there is always something new to discover here." When I was invited to Germany, she wrote: "I can't even imagine what life is like with you."
A land far away
I also cannot imagine what life should be like in Indonesia. I only know the country from the stories told by friends who were there on vacation. "Beautiful there" or "The food there is really cheap". Of course, I can always look for pictures on the internet or read about Indonesian food.
However, I will never get to know the people of the country like this. The pen pals app builds this bridge for me. And it shows me: Indonesia remains a far away country. It takes a day for my message to arrive in Bali. A real letter would take significantly longer to cover the almost 12,000 kilometers. I would have to pay a lot of money to fly there myself.
The internet has brought our world closer together, that is how it is often summed up. However, the fact that everyone is always available worldwide can also be stressful and exhausting. There have long been smartphone addicts. For Kevin Wong, that was a reason to develop the app: "Smartphones are extremely practical. But they also made us feel like we were relaxing and just letting go."
The delayed messages should make waiting and investing time part of the conversation again. "You should notice again that the person you are talking to is thousands of kilometers away. It's a nice feeling that we often forget in our fast-paced world." It is only as I read these words that I think about the fact that Kevin lives in Hong Kong.
Finally see a sunrise
Alison's next letter from Australia reaches me while I'm on vacation in Spain. "I was very happy about your last letter." After several weeks, we still prefer to write about what we want to do and achieve in life. "You'll laugh," she writes, "but I've never managed to watch a sunrise."
She's right, I have to laugh. I've seen a sunrise many times before. Over the Baltic Sea off the Danish coast and over the roofs of Rome, for example. In Sydney, I imagine it to be wonderfully beautiful. "At some point I'll get up early enough," writes Alison. "Let me know if you want to see it in Germany," I type into my cell phone. It will only be part of my next answer.
A couple of the pen pals fell asleep again. I still exchange my mix of German and Danish languages with "Koldskal" from Denmark. Dina likes to tell me about Bali. Others stopped responding at some point - much like chats with some friends on Whatsapp stopped at some point. The digital pen friendship is only as exciting as two people make it. They don't always go together. It is not uncommon for language barriers to prevent the deeper exchange of thoughts. Sometimes I even forgot that I installed the app on my phone.
By waiting for days I learned to take my time again. Time to reply in detail. Each message can be like a small letter. Sometimes I don't write back to friends and family until days later. Is it suitable for everyday use? No. But conversations often arise in the process that would not have arisen if only fleetingly answered. I've already started my letter to Australia, but then decide to put my cell phone aside. Tomorrow I can tell my pen pal how nice my vacation in Spain was.
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