Suitcase Protocol Wrap Up 💝
A look back at the project that brought us together one handoff at a time
Remember that year when “normal” life ground to a halt? When there wasn’t enough sourdough, vegetable gardening, or Netflix to make up for the uncertainty in the world? During that time of isolation and uncertainty, we launched a project to build community one interaction at a time. Now, four years later, we’re pleased to look back and put a bow on the Suitcase Protocol project.
How it started
In 2019 we were planning PauseOnError: Pause and Play, a Claris FileMaker unconference in Saint Louis that had been scheduled for March 30, 2020. Of course, that date happened to be right after most of the US shut down because of the COVID pandemic. We were already in the final stages of planning when we realized we wouldn’t be able to meet in Saint Louis, and pivoting to a virtual event didn’t adequately capture our spirit of play and collaboration. Instead, we decided to outright cancel and give ourselves some time to marinate.
The PauseOnError we had been planning was about taking time to play alongside and with the support of our friends. Obviously during a pandemic it was no longer possible to create this kind of communal space with 100 of our friends, but we realized that we could still find a way to embrace the concept. Instead of one hundred people playing together all at once, what if we spent time together one-on-one, keeping our community safe while still connecting with other humans in person? It might be kind of like passing the Olympic torch around the country.
The more we thought about this, the more we liked it. While virtual events were popping up left and right, we had an unmet hankering for in-person connection. The resulting project was a suitcase that traveled the US (and eventually the world), connecting our community one person at a time. When the suitcase was nearby1, you would arrange to meet up in person to receive the suitcase. Then, you’d take it home, look through the contents and read the suitcase’s journal. You could add something personally or locally meaningful, then meet up with the next person and send it on its way.
How it went
We asked participants to document their time with the suitcase on the Suitcase Protocol blog so that those of us far away could follow along. In retrospect, it’s heartwarming to have these fleeting moments of connection and laughter recorded and preserved.
The first handoff involved two spies meeting at a public park, the exchange of priceless treasure, and in-person interaction with a colleague for the first time in months:
That handoff became known as Spy >> Spy. From there, we witnessed a wide variety of mundane and creative meetings, all around the middle portion of the US. Here are a few highlights:
By the end of 2020, the suitcase had made it from Houston to Chicago and the pandemic was starting to look like a “new normal.” Accordingly, we started to hunt for a venue where we could safely gather even amidst pandemic conditions. This search led us to Ramah Darom, our FileMaker Summer Camp venue.
This gorgeous venue allowed us to spend most of our time outdoors and to be the only group onsite – a far cry from a hotel-based conference. This gave us the confidence to gather in-person at the first PauseOnError FileMaker Summer Camp in October of 2021. There, folks had the opportunity to see the suitcase and the mementos it contained after a year of travel. The suitcase brought the message of play with it to camp – mysterious objects were scattered around the grounds, there were costumes... we hear there was even a small horror film produced.
At the close of the event, there were still people who wanted to take the suitcase for more adventures, so off it went again, into the unknown!
A caring, creative community
This might seem obvious, but people didn’t stop craving connection during the pandemic. Instead, people needed it more. For some folks, the suitcase hand-off was their first work trip outside of their house since the pandemic started. We suggested in-person meetings that were rooted in trust and kindness. What we saw was that people cared about each other’s boundaries. We saw creativity and generosity in the ways people looked out for each other and went out of their way to do something playful.
The suitcase brought together acquaintances and converted them into friends. People who previously held only loose connections now shared a unique, intimate experience – and whatsmore, they created something new together. People offered unusual modes of transportation, interesting sightseeing opportunities, and special visits with family and friends. People dug up old DevCon schedules, wrote in the journal, and even built an entire VoIP system, all for the sake of play!
The suitcase was built for traveling, and even after its “official” retirement it continues to circulate. We hear that it crossed the Atlantic in 2022 and began a European tour. Who knows when it might turn up next, or where it will ultimately settle! If you meet it in the wild, be sure to spend some time with the journal – it’s a touching, analog time capsule of our community in one unusual moment of history.
Thanks for reading Reflections from Pause! Subscribe if you’d like to receive occasional updates from the Pause team.
People with pilot’s licenses really stretched our understanding of “nearby”!