Long-distance: When Margaret Atwood pushes her signature pen

Atwood conceived of the LongPen years ago as she was considering ways authors could reach out to fans worldwide without having to travel non-stop.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: January 26, 2016 5:12 am
Margaret Atwood, Margaret Atwood JLF, JLF 2016, JLF Margaret Atwood, Atwood, Atwood at JLF, JLF Atwood, JLF news, India news Margaret Atwood at the Jaipur Literature Festival. (Express Photo by Rohit Jain Paras)

Indian fans of Margaret Atwood, the celebrated Canadian author, will soon find within reach an invention she had conceived of. The LongPen, which allows people to sign books or any document from a remote location, will be launched in India Thursday by Canadian High Commissioner Nadir Patel.

“It hasn’t been used in India yet — this event will be the first time,” Atwood told The Indian Express over e-mail.
Atwood, who attended the Jaipur Literary Festival, described the changes she has seen since her last visit decades ago. “Last trip was about 27 years ago. First one was in 1978 — that is a long time ago now!” she said. “At that time there were not any literary festivals in India — and now the JLF is the largest free literary festival in the world, and the largest one in India. So there have been many changes! But India remains a warm and welcoming place when hosting events… And let us say too that there has been a tremendous outburst of writing talent from India during that time.”

Patel, the Canadian envoy, said, “I am delighted that we have an opportunity to showcase two inventions by celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood… (she) represents the quintessential Canadian spirit of blending creativity and imagination with invention and technology. The LongPen and Fanado are prime examples of innovative Canadian technology that can have application beyond borders.”

Atwood conceived of the LongPen years ago as she was considering ways authors could reach out to fans worldwide without having to travel non-stop. “Margaret thought, could there be a way of connecting with her readers via video and sign books… After many attempts at developing a robot capable of recreating biometrically perfect human handwriting, we managed to develop the first-generation LongPen,” said Mathew M Gibson, MD and CEO of Toronto-based firm Syngrafii, which markets LongPen. “It was housed in a free standing kiosk with integrated videoconferencing and while it worked flawlessly, it took five people to lift it (it now sits on a desk).”

Fanado, the other invention, is a company that was created by Syngrafii with a mandate to “make celebrities more available to their fans”. “Fanado is the first online event space that will offer limited edition, one-of-a-kind products both in digital as well as physical products to fans around the world,” Gibson said.

Over the years, Syngrafii has conducted over 50 high-profile live signing events with authors such as Norman Mailer, Edward Kennedy Jr, Dean Koontz; David Suzuki and Atwood. The concept’s scope has extended beyond artists and celebrities. “The Cabinet Office (in Ontario) was our first business application, where it is still being used today as a way for Cabinet Ministers to sign, with pen on paper, Orders in Council using a tablet connected to the Internet — regardless of where they are geographically located,” Gibson said. The LongPen is now in use or in pilot with US, Canadian and UAE based banks, law firms and government applications.

On the future of LongPen in India, he said, “India is a global powerhouse in the production of feature films — indeed Bollywood has an enormous global fan base. Indian actors are, as with celebrities around the world, in high demand for any kind of interaction by their fans; however, distance, conflicting schedules, security, and availability of time precludes these actors from reaching out in meaningful ways to the tens of millions of fans that follow them. The same can be said for sports celebrities in cricket and football…

“Imagine fans of Amitabh Bachchan, Irrfan Khan or indeed actress and singer Priyanka Chopra, all icons in their field, interacting via video with their fans located in Canada or anywhere in the world for that matter. At the end of the meeting, the fan would receive a limited edition, signed and personalised memento as well as a copy of the video file of their chat with their idol. This of course would then be shared on social media which would go absolutely viral — what better way for entertainment industries to raise their global profile?”