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Who invented email?

October 28, 2011

You all know Errol Morris, right? Documentarian? Thin Blue Line? Fog of War? Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control? He sometimes writes for the New York Times opinion blog. Summer 2011 he wrote a five-piece investigation of his brother’s participation in developing an email protocol at MIT in the 1960s.

Part One: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/did-my-brother-invent-e-mail-with-tom-van-vleck-part-one/

The series touches on several topics pertinent to LIBR240.

(1) Archiving. Morris was able to ascertain who was involved with the project by looking through the MIT archives: help manuals, proposals, communications, etc. Who decided to save this stuff? Derek has proposed that the decision is no longer moot. There is space to save it all, we should do so, and go through it when desired? Is that possible? Would Morris have been able to answer his questions if someone hadn’t first sorted through the papers and decided what was important to save? Or perhaps that didn’t happen and somebody just shoved everything in a banker’s box “to go through later.”

(2) Commenting one’s code. Morris was further able to figure out who had actually written individual pieces of code by reading the comments. With the help of others involved with the project, he determined the various writing styles of the participants. So remember, you are commenting for the future!

(3) Paywalls. As you know, this article is behind the NY Times paywall. If you haven’t accessed anything else from the Times this month (or whatever the time frame is) and you aren’t a subscriber, you should be able to read all five articles. Otherwise, you would have to pay for access. Of course, if you wanted to read today’s New York Times, you would have to buy a copy, find one left at the bus stop or Starbucks, or go to the library. What about these blogs? My local library does not have a digital subscription to the Times. This content is only available to paying customers and most likely will never enter the public domain.

p.s. I highly recommend Morris’ latest book, Believing is Seeing. He delves into the origins and context of several iconic (although not always famous) photographs and investigates how they shape our perceptions and memories. Relevant to our studies is the realization that every photograph crops out something, there is no truly unbiased recording of events, and one never know what will be important in a hundred years.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 28, 2011 8:19 pm

    Justine – this sounds like a fascinating resource. I’m especially interested in the idea that when you crop a photo, you loose something-it’s like archiving, editing, winnowing down the book/media selection in a library. You’re making room, and making things just so, but you might not realize what’s been lost. Same with how we can just take phone photos, for example, and delete them without a second thought. Who knows what was captured in that deleted pic that you’ll never know was there.

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