A project that Carolyn Strauss and I proposed, to do in collaboration with graphic designer and artist Zipora Fried received a Rhizome Commission! We’re pretty excited. We’ve been chatting around the project topic basically since we first met a couple of years ago now.

Here’s the project write up

I’m also doubly psyched for Aaron Meyers, a cool albeit way too lanky (especially for how much he eats) graduate student in the USC Interactive Media Division‘s MFA program for getting a Rhizome Commission for his Torrent Raiders project — basically his thesis project. Congratulations Aaron!

Here’s the short blurb for SLOWmail from the Rhizome Commissions Finalists page (and a link to the SLOWmail wiki containing some preliminary notes):

SLOWmail is a new email service that deliberately slows down the pace of electronic messaging. It operates at the opposite end of the time-to-delivery spectrum from traditional email, offering a more reflective experience for both sender and recipient, and challenging forth more artful, writerly and meaning-ful correspondence. SLOWmail leverages social software practices and idioms- ontologies, semantic tagging, media sharing, presence awareness- seeking not to supplant other forms of electronic contact, but rather to complement them. As platforms like IM and SMS increase in popularity, SLOWmail explores the possibilities of less instantaneity and more calm in communication, creating a new rhythm of social interaction. The act of composing a SLOW message requires time and care since it is largely the semantics of the dispatch that will determine the pace of its delivery. The author tags his correspondence to describe a relationship to the recipient (mom, lover, enemy, etc), their respective geographic locations and the mood of the message (solemn, jovial, angry, etc). Once sent, the message is filtered through the SLOWmail software environment which further interprets its meaning and assesses the sender-recipient relationship, factoring in message history, frequency of correspondence and past message content to determine the delivery timeframe. At any time, users may login to the SLOWmail web site to view messages in progress, experienced as compelling graphic visualizations that develop gradually to represent pending correspondence. The visualizations will be developed by graphic designer and artist Zipora Fried, who will generate a series of full-quality digital illustrations to convey ‘moods’ that correspond with the differing tones of the messages. These will be programmed to render over time at varying rates. The slow unfolding of these illustrations will provide an abstract indication of a message’s time trajectory, without revealing the exact delivery date. The service thus offers a unique air of excitement and creativity, encouraging users to be attentive and inventive as they look for the hidden meanings behind words and phrases they employ, opening up time for contemplation and enjoyment, while cultivating social bonds. With SLOWmail, it is not our desire to create a nostalgic system, but rather to use all the features and capacities of digital media — rich visuals, networked connectivity, databases, etc.— to create a new mechanism for electronic correspondence, where speed is surrendered to the promise of aesthetic character, pleasurability and new social connections. SLOWmail is a project of slowLab, inc. a New York State nonprofit organization that serves as a laboratory for ‘slow design’ thinking and practice. slowLab is dedicated to creative innovation that cultivates slower rhythms and expressions to balance today’s fast flows of information, rate of resource consumption and the increasing speed of daily encounters. slowLab founder Carolyn Strauss will serve as Project Director for SLOWmail, overseeing design, creative implementation, administration, publicity and documentation. Technologist Julian Bleecker will be responsible for the system design, software programming, information architecture of the public-facing web site, oversight of beta testing, and ongoing technical refinement/iteration. Technical and administrative interns will perform quality assurance and pr/marketing services.

Why do I blog this?Another project to help answer questions about how patterns of social communication, expectation, attachment and formation are created through networked digital publics. What are other patterns that can arise through digitally networked publics? What forms of communication, what registers of dialogue can come to be when speed is bartered for ambience, calmness, and aesthetics (other than wiggly postcards)? I dunno, so I do a project.