So, it’s decided, I’m writing letters for people – you type and submit a letter online, including some instructions for how you want the letter to be written, and then I personally write and post it (as in, send it by post). It’s time to start putting together the actual site (it’s pretty barebones right now) so I’m thinking a lot about the interface and how I want everything to work and look.

Essentially, I think what I am going for is a functional design portfolio site, where previous letters are displayed (not for their content, but for their look and feel, also just for my own documentation of the process, which could end up being somewhat performative in and of itself) and anyone who uses the site can indicate how they want the letter to be written. It should be a sort of tiered approach, where they can choose from a variety of choices but also have the freedom to write in requests, in which case, I am taking on less of a letter monkey position and acting more like a consultant, reading into the tone of their letter, perhaps, to decide what stationary, handwriting, or writing implements to use.

There’s a lot of ins and outs to this app – why I’m doing it, what judgements I’m making about the people who do (or don’t) use it, and what it means in regards to the ways we communicate with each other today. Ultimately though, I’m looking at it, as I think most people still look at technology, from the “black box” angle.

I’ll try to explain – I’ve started reading a book called The Victorian Internet, all about the telegraph and how it changed society. What’s especially interesting to me are the fears people had about the new technology and what it would do to their message. I think the same fears apply to all communications technology, although it gets easier as we get more used to a particular medium. But the fact remains – you say what it is that you want to say in one end, something happens behind the curtain (emails get broken up into packets, voice is transmitted as frequency signals, etc) and then, eventually, your message is spat out the other end. There is always that fear of how your message will be respresented on the other end (think about a crummy fax machine or an email app that doesn’t do proper line breaks) but we are at the mercy of these technologies and constantly use them anyway. In this case, I like to think of myself as “the man behind the curtain” and hope that people will both participate by offering as much information as they want on the input end, but ultimately resigning themselves to the fact that I (the “technology”) will actually control how it looks in the output end.

So next up, in addition to building the actual site where people can choose the options they want for their letter, is to start putting the options together, and “curating” them, if you will. This means one of my favorite activities – a trip to the paper store!