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It's email, but at a snail's pace...

18 June 2008

Snail with a number painted on its back BU researchers devise project to challenge our obsession with the speed of sending and receiving emails.

BU Research Fellows Vicki Isley and Paul Smith are using live snails to send emails as part of a 'slow art' project aimed at encouraging people to explore notions of time.

The 'RealSnailMail' project removes the 'instant' element of email communication, with messages taking days, weeks or even months to arrive - if at all.

Each of the three snails, Austin, Cecil and Muriel, is fitted with a tiny capsule which holds a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. As the snails pass within range of an electronic reader positioned within their tank, email messages will be transmitted to the chip. When they pass close to a second reader, the message is transmitted to it and the email is sent over the net in the usual way.

"One thing technology promises us is speed, acceleration, more of everything in less time" says Paul Smith. "All we are doing here is creating a physical and biological interruption to this flow, and we hope that by doing this we might also interrupt for one small moment our understanding of communication, allowing us to explore notions of time. It may even enable us to take time rather than lose it."

Later this summer RSM will feature in Los Angeles at SIGGRAPH 2008, the world's leading new media event, as part of a 'Slow Art' category. It will be the third time that Vicky and Paul have had work featured at the event, following Los Angeles in 2005 and Boston in 2006.

They are hoping that a large number of emails will have been sent by the time the show, which attracts over 30,000 computer graphics and interactive technology experts, begins.

Vicky and Paul are based within the National Centre for Computer Animation at BU, and collaborate as boredomresearch. They have earned an international reputation for interrogating the creative role of computing, and teamed up with Tim Orman and Andrew Watson from the School of Design, Engineering and Computing to develop the hardware and network components for the project.

To send a snail mail yourself, visit

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