Offline^2

**First published NOVEMBER 4, 2013

Software development has focused on an approach of moving offline activities (social relationships, communication, shopping, etc) online. And yet we seemingly lose an element of humanity in these online interactions. Why not take the reverse approach? How do we use the internet to make what was traditionally an offline activity more effective or easier to accomplish?

Take the idea of writing a letter. It has easily been replaced by digital communication tools – from fax to email to SMS to Snapchat, the list goes on and on in ways to communicate online. But none are as formal or as personable as a handwritten letter. Yet, our society has lost touch with this traditional, beautiful medium. Writing a letter takes much more time and energy than sending an email. You need letterhead, a pen, content, good handwriting, an envelope, postage, sending address information, time to make a trip to the postal box, and finally no assumption of receiving a response or even acknowledgment that it arrived (in a few days at time).

Of all the things listed here, all but one can be achieved by someone else sourced in an online environment. That one thing is content. As long as the letter sender can create the content, it’s technically feasible for the rest of the steps to be accomplished by a third party. A company that crowdsources writers, matches penmanship with personal taste, manages additional media and printing (photos, etc.), and handles postage and mailing logistics can do so entirely on the internet.

I’m not suggesting this is a logical approach to writing letters, I’m simply pointing out the fact that technology has forced us to lose touch with some of the simpler things that humans in a different lifetime valued and appreciated. Is it not worth thinking about how to use technology to bridge the online world back with the offline world?