MEET THE DEVELOPER
Real friendships take time
Sometimes it’s better to take it SLOWLY
SLOWLY - Connect to the World!
Write letters and make friends
A message pops up. Now, do you reply right away, or think a bit before texting back? And if you do choose to wait, how long before it starts to seem rude?
Questions like these also troubled Hong Kong developer Kevin Wong. Like many of us, Wong felt conflicted about reading without replying to messages.
“It was something that gradually became a source of pressure for me,” says Wong, a former creative director.
This eventually led Wong to reflect on our modern conceptions of communication: Does every exchange have to be instantaneous? He began to reminisce about sending letters to his pen pals while in primary school.
“I remembered that feeling of anticipation and looking forward to getting a letter from a person you’ve never seen before.” That’s when he had the idea to recapture that feeling on a smartphone.
Wong began teaching himself the ins and outs of app development. In four months, he created SLOWLY. First off, users only have avatars for their accounts. No photos. Also, intros include no details other than country of origin and personal interests, which the app uses to pair up pen pals. But what really sets SLOWLY apart is delayed gratification. Messages are not instantaneously received. Instead, the app calculates wait times based on location. For instance, a letter from Hong Kong takes over 10 hours to receive in the U.S., while only three hours to reach a user in an East Asian nation.
For more fun, SLOWLY adds a stamp collecting element that incentivises making more friends from far away. Every region has its own unique stamp. Find a pen pal there and you’ll earn another stamp.
Unlike conventional social media, SLOWLY isn’t about perfect selfies and profiles. The app’s functionality and design offer a unique way to meet people you never thought you would.
“Like a friend of mine who met a guy saying he’s a visitor from the future. He includes all kinds of predictions in every letter,” says Wong. “People create these virtual personas for themselves that really are very interesting!”
Since each letter is strictly text-based, it’s more like reading a story with room for your imagination to fill in the details.
The app bucked conventional social media trends – to rave reviews. The success came as quite a surprise to Wong. “Many people have told me they haven’t sent a long, thoughtful letter in ages. They were shocked that beyond a quick ‘hi’, ‘bye’ and using emojis, they had basically forgotten how to write.”
Equally unexpected are the friendships that develop. Wong tells of one user anxiously seeking help with login issues because he had a few pen pals who would write every day, and had exchanged more than 300 letters. Even though they had long shared their other social media contacts, they still preferred to communicate through SLOWLY.
With new friends come new perspectives. Sharing your everyday routine with someone who views it through a completely different cultural lens can reveal exciting things you had never noticed, or perhaps had long forgotten. Take the hustle of the big city, for example. It wears down some, while others are invigorated by it. The same goes for country living. “Every place has its pros and cons… it’s really interesting what different cultures bring to the conversation,” Wong says.
However, Wong said it was the constant support from those who enjoy savouring long-form missives that motivated him to keep developing the app.
As for the future of SLOWLY, Wong is full of enthusiasm. He hopes to add more avatar options: skin tones, jewellery and props – even animals and aliens – as well as a desktop version.
If you’d like a change of speed, or long for the simple pleasure of receiving letters, Wong invites you to set aside some time and write to a new friend. Such sharing is a process to be savoured, and best enjoyed when you take it slowly.