[ih] Any suggestions for first uses of "e-mail" or "email"?

Jack Haverty jack at 3kitty.org
Tue Aug 4 13:16:12 PDT 2015


I should have been more careful with my wording to avoid generalizing.
Perhaps "Some historians..." would have been better.

I wouldn't have expected History to raise blood pressure, but sometimes
I experience that myself.  This often happens when I read some document
purporting to describe a historical situation, and it happens to be one
where I was there at the time.   Some of the books and papers about
network history I've read raised my BP when their description of events
and causality didn't match my personal memory much at all, or left out
important related activities occurring at the same time.

Sadly, I think we who were involved back then have to share much of the
blame.  Computers, word processing, file systems, FTP sites, and other
such stuff were the new toys.  They were our own toys.  We built them.
We liked to play with them.  We preferred to use them rather than
traditional methods.

So we wrote lots of code.  We wrote lots of documentation, and embedded
it in the code.  We put useful files in readily accessible places, on
our own FTP servers or the ones at the NIC.  We had extensive
discussions and debates on all sorts of technical and other issues,
using our brand new mail systems.

We didn't write a lot of papers or more formal documents.  Anything on
paper was suspected to be obsolete anyway.   We did write RFCs, IENs,
and other such semi-formal documents, which have fortunately been well
preserved by Jake Feinler and others.   But even those are sometimes
misinterpreted as capturing a moment in time, when they often actually
captured a moment in the past.   I remember finally writing up an RFC
defining the XNET protocol, but only after it had been in use for years.

We used the ephemeral mechanisms of the network to document our work,
and I suspect most of it has been lost or become unreadable.   We tried
to create mechanisms for longevity, e.g., the DataComputer at CCA, but
the technology wasn't up to the task.

We made life for today's historians much more difficult than it might
have been.

I've often wondered if that's one major reason why the Internet survived
when all of the other similar efforts didn't.   Rough consensus
(achieved electronically) and running code instead of formal documents,
committees, voting, et al.

Keep up the good work!

On 08/04/2015 11:56 AM, Andrew Russell wrote:
>> On Aug 4, 2015, at 2:26 PM, John Klensin <jklensin at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Tue, Aug 4, 2015 at 2:02 PM, Andrew Russell <arussell at stevens.edu> wrote:
>>> No, we haven’t.  I (and several co-authors) made this exact point in:
>>> ...
>>> … and I’m sure I’m forgetting many more similar analyses by historians, published and not, by me and by others.
>>> I would like to think that journalists and their readers would understand (or at least try to understand) that a technology can be “invented” or “developed” by one community, but a popular name for that technology can be “coined” by someone else; that priority in coinage is not necessarily causality in invention and usage (we don’t use “email" *because* Shiva A called it that in the late 70s); and that invention and innovation are not the most significant or interesting aspects of technological and social change.  But you’ll forgive me for thinking that I’m fighting a losing battle along multiple fronts.
>> Sorry Andy.  I've read a few of those papers and others and obviously
>> agree.  I construed Jack's remark as more of a reminder to those of us
>> who tend to focused on the Internet about the importance of looking
>> more broadly when some of these questions come up rather than as a
>> criticism of the historical community and responded on that basis.
>> No disrespect or implication that you folks had not been doing your
>> jobs intended.
>>    john
> Thanks - no apology necessary - upon re-reading it, my tone had more huff than I intended.  I read Jack’s email when my blood pressure hadn’t settled after watching the CBS/Henry Ford segment on the invention of email at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9od6oIqHDH0.  
> In any case, I think we all agree that there is plenty of research that we (historians and our allies) need to do.  And, we can always do more to get more accurate and more nuanced stories into public view, even if we’re frustrated by the results.  
> Cheers,
> Andy

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