Thursday, 1 July 2010

RealSnailMail service is fast, relatively speaking!

Feeling bored and don't know what to do with your time? If you are, maybe you should just do what I did way back on 18 Jun 2008. (Of course, I was still working then, unlike now. But I was bored. I had time. I didn't know what to do.) On that fateful day, someone suggested that I visit the RealSnailMail web site. If you don't know what this web site does, please do visit it.

RealSnailMail is a wacky web mail service devised by a few people suffering from terminal boredom, with time to kill on their hands and don't exactly know what to do with it. The service uses real snails -- currently, 34 of them -- to deliver email messages across a 50cm-long enclosure. According to the web site, a miniaturised electronic circuit and antenna are attached to each snail, enabling it to be assigned messages. 

(I wonder whether any animal rights activist had ever protested about the additional weight that these snails are forced to carry permanently on their backs. If I were one of these snails, I would look the activist in the eye and ask him what he would do to help alleviate my discomfort. It's torture, man, I tell you. I get psychologically disturbed because I don't want to look like the hunchback snail of Notre Dame. Besides, can't even zoom round corners without worrying whether the chip would knock into something or fly off!) 

A message is collected from a despatch centre at one end of their enclosure and once associated with the tiny electronic chip on the snail's shell the message is carried around until the snail happens to ooze near the drop-off point. At this stage, the message is transmitted to its final destination. It's a very simple process.

So there I was, at 10:15:46am on 18 Jun 2008, sitting at my computer and thinking about the message I should send and whom to send it to. It was kind of real hard to decide on the spot. Serious! Sometimes it's so hard to make up your mind.

I had forgotten all about this website until quite recently when I received a notification from Real Snail Mail that my message had finally been picked up by one of their snails, Agent 55 aka Pastor, on 13 Jun 2010 at 13:30:56pm. Wow, that's almost like two years waiting in the queue. 

However, that was not the end of the story because Pastor would still need to travel right across to the other end of the enclosure before it could drop off the message. In the meantime, it would still have to stop, eat, play and do whatever else comes naturally to snails. Worse still, snails are hermaphrodite animals. There is no knowing when Pastor may suddenly go off to lay eggs. And the worst case is that the snail may die in the midst of delivery. A snail's lifespan is only about three years. Surely, many things can happen between both ends of the enclosure.

Therefore, to say that I was confident of my message being delivered soon was out of the question. No, I wasn't confident at all. Heck, I was even prepared to wait another two years or so. But suddenly again, I received a second notification from Real Snail Mail yesterday that Pastor had reached the end of its delivery. The electronic message had been picked up by a sensor on 30 Jun 2010 at 11:14:58am and sent to Ted, my intended recipient.

So my message stayed in the RealSnailMail web mail queue for exactly one year, 360 days, three hours, 15 minutes and 10 seconds before it was picked up by Pastor, and a further 16 days, 21 hours, 44 minutes and 18 seconds to travel across the 50 centimetres (as the bird flies). I consider myself lucky that my snail had been so efficient and well trained. I've noticed that some other recalcitrant carrier snails that picked up their messages more than 70 days ago had yet to deliver them.

Luckily too, my message was short and nothing important. And while I'd suggest that you try out this service for yourself, I wouldn't recommend you to use this web mail service if your need to put your message across urgently.

Mmm....on the other hand, maybe you should use RealSnailMail if you want to send proposals to your boss.

UPDATE (at 9am): Ted has just forwarded me the message in his inbox, received at 6.15pm local time yesterday. Accompanying my message was a short note from RealSnailMail which read:
Date: 18 Jun 2008
Time: 5.16pm

This message was sent on 18th Jun 2008 at 10:15:46, following which it travelled at the speed of light to our server. It then waited until 13th Jun 2010 at 13:30:56 when it was collected by Agent 55 aka 'Pastor' who finally forwarded it to you on 30th Jun 2010 at 11:14:56.
If you would like to reply by Real Snail Mail™ please visit here you can also find a photo of Pastor.
We hope you received your message in good time. For more information on this or any other project by boredomresearch please visit

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