Old-School Pen Pals Ride New Technology Wave of Communication


Pen pals seem so 1956. Or 1856. Who knows? You tend to forget the simple things in life, especially when you are nose-deep into your Android checking for likes on your Facebook or Instagram page. Perhaps it’s time to take a break and grab a pen and find a pal.

New Yorker staff writer Rachel Syme is leading the old-school concept of pen pals by soliciting people to send letters … to complete strangers.

It’s called the PENPALOOZA initiative, which Syme set up using Secret Santa software courtesy of Elfster. Catch the wave: The number of participants is up to 7,300 and growing exponentially. It’s no surprise, as any form of human contact is a commodity during these pandemic times.

“in early summer i asked if anyone would like to start writing snail mail to strangers; people seemed into it so i set up this exchange,” Syme (@rachelsyme) tweeted this past August.

“it’s done through secret santa software (lol) because that is the only/best way to do such things at scale; so the way it works when you sign up is you get one person to write to first, and another person gets you … so two pen pals for one sign-up (more bang for your zero bucks).”

There is an option to include a little something for yourself on a “wishlist” link, but the primary purpose is to connect through the power of the written word.

It’s kinda like a blind date, only with zero pressure or expectations or deciding if you should go Dutch with the bill.

One satisfied pen-paler was Anna Sublet. “When my first piece of mail arrived, the excitement I felt was beyond reason,” she said, sharing her experience with The Guardian.

“The pure thrill of a package, holding pieces of a person—a bookmark, a sticker and words—was quite simply intoxicating. Across a two-month period, this connection had taken shape and taken flight across the globe.”

As Syme says: “Even under the best of circumstances, there’s a delay, a period where the letter is an object of hope, in transit between the present and the future.”

Sounds like a great idea. We all could use a new friend during these challenging times.

Click here to check out Elfster.

BONUS: If you’re looking for some unique postcards to kick your pen pal writing off with, look no further than our Live Boldly postcard book. Now available in the GB Shop!

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