• Julia

Introducing Slowly: A Pen Pal App

Slowly's official logo. A Mailbox, with a yellow envelop going inside it.

Do you remember the times you used to rush from school, sit behind your parent's desk and put pen to paper (back in those days this was a valid expression) and feel so utterly liberated by the act of writing a letter to someone from another town or country whom you got to know only through the nice smell of paper and ink? And then there was the pleasant wait, for the post person to ring the bell and give you that special letter you've waited for weeks, sometimes even for months. Do you remember?

Well I don't. Many of us born in the age of online messengers and email have no recollection of those days. The old pen pals are replaced nowadays by social media friends and dating apps. And it's partially a good thing. Trees aren't cut for production of paper and the delivery of messages is done via measures with smaller carbon footprint. But perhaps the fast-paced instant messaging service which nowadays has become an indispensable part of almost every app, has deprived majority of communications of personal affection and caring engagement. Slowly addresses this very issue. Slowly has managed to capture the exciting and nice aspects of the old pen pal system, and bring to life a new version of it, without being environmentally unfriendly (it's completely paperless) or regressive. As someone who has spent all her life in the Internet age, I gave Slowly a try, and I simply love it! I think it is a successful and useful app even for those who have no recollection of the pre-Internet days.

So what is Slowly? Technically, it's a messaging service for smart phones (download for Android or for iOS), but not an "instant" messenger. It takes time for your letters to be delivered, based on yours and your pen pal's locations. For example, it takes two days for a letter to be delivered from the UK to Australia, 4-5 hours from Ireland to Poland.

Official screenshot of the app Slowly, a pen pal service for smartphones. It shows a text written by a user, with a stamp at top right.

How do you set up a Slowly profile? You simply sign up with your email address or telephone number, and then all you need is a username, a gender (female, non-binary, or male), and an avatar from a large pre-existing collection of cartoon-like avatars. After selecting your location and your interests, you're all set to go. You will also be given the option of writing a bit about yourself for your future pen pals—although the majority of users have opted in for the same style used on dating apps such as Tinder and OkCupid.

Slowly's cartoonish avatars. They are profile pictures, showing face and neck and breast area.

After setting up your account, you can either wait for others to contact you, or look for your future pen pal(s). The app can automatically match you with a pen pal. Alternatively, Slowly offers manual search with really powerful refining capabilities (age range, gender, interests, countries they are from, and languages they speak). The list of interests are limited, but they are broad enough (such as 'literature', 'art', 'vegan') to make pen pals enquire about their interests.

Map of the world in Slowly pen pal app, with a letter icon showing where the incoming message is coming from, in this case from Spain. There is a notification coving most of the lower part of screen, reading, 'Letter from Spain will be arriving in 2 hours. Come back soon!'

When someone sends you a letter, you get a world map (and I think this is the cutest and the most exciting feature of Slowly) in which you can see where the incoming letter is coming from and the time it'll take to arrive. Moreover, Slowly has issued a guide on writing a letter to a pen pal, which, as someone not familiar with the pen pal culture, I found extremely educational and helpful. Just click on the lightbulb icon in the app and ensure you read the tips to establish long-lasting and interesting pen friendships.

To sum it up, Slowly is a new version of internet communication, with a progressive eye for making messaging more meaningful and engaging, without falling for destructive and regressive nostalgias. Slowly's success is not for making communication a delayed process. After all, most of us reply to our WhatsApp and Facebook messages with a long delay (of even up to weeks!). Slowly's success lies squarely on its having managed to make its users conscious of this delay, and encouraging them (even instructing them) to take their time writing more engaging and interesting messages to each other. To make things even more fun, Slowly allows the users to collect locations-based, eye-pleasing stamps.

Cartoonish apps for Slowly pen pal app. The stamps each or for a country with a known landmark, such as Pisa Tower for Italy and Tower Bridge for the UK.