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For the Love of Letters
Cool Tech: Websites, hardware and apps for written word enthusiasts

If you had the chance to speak to one million people, what would you say?
That’s the question being asked by NYU students who have spearheaded an opt-in listserv designed to see what people write about when given the spotlight. It’s the latest example of a growing tech trend surrounding the revival of letters. Between apps, social experiments and the return of the stylus, there’s a booming nostalgia for the written word. Here are some of the coolest ways letters are making a comeback in the digital sphere.

The Listserve
The Listserve is an email lottery where each day one person is chosen to write to the entire list of subscribers — about anything they want. The social experiment kicked off earlier this month and within days had more than 10,000 subscribers. It was created by Masters students at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. What’s fascinating about it is the opt-in outlet gives audience to a voice centered on curiosity. Most large-scale email lists are topic centric, but this is pretty much up in the air. “The basic idea… is to see what people do when given a spotlight,” Listserve team member Josh Begley told Betabeat. Writers are chosen at random and have three days to submit a letter, which they can choose to send to subscribers anonymously. Letters are reviewed by the Listserve team prior to being sent.

The return of the Stylus

Samsung’s Galaxy Note made its North American debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January and it remains the ideal phone for the romantic letter writer. The Note is the closest phone to pen and paper in current existence. The larger size and touchscreen stylus compatibility makes it easier to hold in your hand and scribble thoughts. The phone converts handwritten words to text, and also comes with built in templates that let you make and send written notes. Stylus usage is also becoming increasingly popular for iPhone users (in part due to the success of Draw Something) and critics predict its return as a key writing experience is crucial for tablets and phones in the future.

This notation app for Android was specifically designed for usage with styli. Papyrus is a natural note-taking app compatible with tablets running the Honeycomb operating system or higher. Steadfast Innovation released the app at the end of March. The pressure sensitive app allows for more natural writing. Users can organize notes within digital notebooks, and the vector based graphics can be converted to PDF’s and shared through email and related services. It has received superior user reviews for both its usability and functionality, scoring an average rating of 4.7 out of 5. The app is available for free from the Google Play download store.

Pen Pals

There are a number of pen pal related mobile apps, but the Pen Pals Apple app looks the best. The intrigue factor comes in the random connection to other users.  You create messages using text, photos and audio clips to connect automatically and randomly with users around the world. Users can have multiple pen pals and are notified when new messages come in. Other apps including more recent incarnations are mostly free but come baring warnings of inappropriate content. Pen Pals has maintained good reviews since its inception in 2010 by developers Dos Hombres.  It is available for $1.99 from the app store.

Letters In The Mail
This one isn’t as tech related, but since you have to sign up online I’m including it anyway. Online culture magazine The Rumpus launched the Letters In The Mail project earlier this year, an initiative that aims to reignite a mass love for letters by mailing photocopies of author-penned letters three to four times a month. Since its inception, subscribers have received letters from Rumpus editor Stephen Elliott, online sex blogger sensation Marie Colloway and the hilarious Margaret Cho. Future letters will be penned by Janet Fitch (White Oleander), Jonathan Ames (Bored To Death) and former Gawker editor Emily Gould, to name only a few. Canadian subscribtions will run you $10 monthly.


Sheena Lyonnais writes about tech for Toronto Standard. You can follow her on Twitter at @SheenaLyonnais.

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