article by Ruud Janssen
This article was written after a first use of Internet. I wrote down my thoughts on how my mail art activities and e-mail activities were going at that time. version : October 1995.
Just count how much money it costs. I know some mail-artists count too simple. They just count the access-bills and the phone-bill, but if you know a little more about economics, there are more things to pay for. You need the electricity, a place for your computer, a modem, an extra phone-access for this modem, the time to get your e-mail or to visit the homepages. If you go further, the money for renting the memory at your server for your own homepages, etc. The list of what you have to pay for gets quite long.
Of course there is a cheap way to enter the internet. In the USA it is already common that libraries and governments make it possible for the inhabitants in a large city to work on the internet. Earlier this was only possible for students and lecturers, people working at large institutes and business. Access for the average person becomes better and better. But it depends also on the wealth of a country how the infrastructu re for communication is built. If you want to use internet independently you need your own private access-point and that still costs a lot of money. Here in the Nether lands the costs are dropping every half year because of the competition of internet- providers. I have even read articles where they predict that the internet-access will be free for every inhabitant of my country within a few years. The reason is simple. All communication between gouvernment, firms, etc. with privat persons via the internet is cheeper, faster, and would save the gouvernment money. Having a mail- box at a door for receiving 'snail-mail' is also free, so why shouldn't the e-mail ad dress be free?
There is another thing to think of. Even when you have a computer and a modem and access to internet, computers don't last that long. After five years of use they normally break down. If you are depending on the computer, you will have to buy a new one, a faster one, more memory, more speed, you will have to follow the har dware changes because the servers who make your access possible will follow these changes too. An example was my own (old) computer. It is an old-fashioned DOS-machine, and the servers now work mostly on Windows. My machine can deal with the speed of communication, but the large amounts of memory it has to deal with, the speed to process this means I have to update my hardware. While writing the new version of this article I was even forced to do so, and I am now working with a Pentium-133 MHz computer with a 1GByte Harddisk, 8 Mbyte Internal RAM-memo ry, CD-ROM and soundcard. Forced, because my old XT-computer (with a 8088-II processor) broke down after almost 8 years of loyal service. I realized when the old computer broke down I had to get a new one and use my saving for it because I have gotten dependent on that machine.
The software used for internet gets more complex every month. This is because the structure of internet is complex too, and the software gets larger to make the access better. But it does mean that you have to update your software regularly too. Mostly the servers help you with this, but still you have to download this software now and then and have the space on your own computer to use it. The increasing of the size of software programs has a simple drive. If computers are to be used by more pe ople, the programs should become more user-friendly. This means the software will help the user more and therefore will have to "know" more. The new Operating system I use now (Windows95) is very friendly indeed, but it consists of about 130 Mbyte of memory (my old computer only had a 20 Mbyte harddisk, so you can see how it grows!)
More important than the hardware and the software is the skills you need to work with it all. When you never worked with a computer, you probably wouldn't read this article at all, but when you are on internet, you will discover the large world and specialties that have evolved in informatics and computerland. There are few specia list in this, and on the other side there are many people who claim to be a specialist because they sometimes know more then the non-computer user. Computer-skills come with time and practice. You can't learn it quickly unless you have plenty of time. Even for people who work with computers all the time it is hard to keep up with all the changes.
There are many aspects connected to e-mail. I will discuss some of them:
E-mail is slower then a FAX, but it sure beats the snail-mail. Of course it depends too on the receiver. The e-mail message only 'arrives' when the receiver contacts his server. Some 'professionals' have arranged it so that their computer is on at some times, and that the server contacts them to upload the new mail and collects their new mail to pass on. It is like the electronic mail-man who comes to your computer to bring and collect the mail.
-MANIPULATION OF FILES
When you receive an e-mail message, you can quite simply manipulate it. Change some words, or even use a word-processor to change things dramatically. An exam ple I use for my students is the 'love-letter'. If you want to change the name of the person a letter is written to the 'look-up and replace' command in a word-processor is a very powerful tool.
-SEND ONE TO ONE
Sending out messages, or even forwarding messages is very easy to do. When the text/message you want to send is there, the address of someone else is a simple address that is easy to type. Most servers give you the possibility of an address-book, and then a single push on a key, or a pointer from a mouse is enough to send out a message. Also for forwarding of large texts this is a work of a few se conds....
-SEND ONE TO MANY
There is also the possibility to use mailing-lists. Some e-mail messages I get are sent like that. Someone has two files. One is the text he wants to send, and the other file contains all the addresses he wants the message to go too. In computer-terms they call it 'mail-merge'. Once you have this senders-file, you can easily send out lots of mail. But remember that with a minute work you sometimes send out hundreds of letters. If everybody would reply, then it will become a problem for you to answer this.
Mostly the messages sent on this way are easy to discover. The best are the ones who have the sender list in the message, so you can actually see who else got the message too. I must admit that these messages are mostly quite impersonal, and I don't often read them. On December 24th I suddenly got about 8 e-mail messages which were all mass-mailings. Someone had sent a friendly note to a large list of e- mail addresses. Some people on that list got anoyed by it and didn't knew why they were on the list. They therefore replied to all people on the list that they wanted to get of that list. This triggered even more e-mails to all people on that list. It doesn't hurt for people to read about the "unwritten rules" for using e-mail.
With the right software you can also start to do things automatically. Make a quasi personal reply to an e-mail message and send it out. It has the same function as the xeroxed answer.
-WHERE GO THE LOST MESSAGES
If you send a message to an address that doesn't exists. Or even when you make a small typing mistake when you type someone's address, the message is always sent into the internet. Most postmasters (the person who is the 'boss' for the messages that pass his server) have the right to read any message that passes their way, and if it arrives and they don't know where it should go to, they normally file it anyway. E- mail messages don't cost that much memory, and better save all than loose somet hing most postmasters think. So your message might not make it to the person you would like it to go to, but it sure will go somewhere. Sometimes even copies of messages might be saved at place you know nothing about. Just remember that if you think that e-mail is safe. A nice example I heard was of the scandal with General North. He said something, but an e-mail message that was archived proved that he was lying...
-PRIVACY ON INTERNET?
So, privacy on internet? Forget it. On the server where you log in, the postmaster has the right to read you e-mail. Of course he won't read all the e-mail that you send out, but he is allowed too. This is not that strange, because also for the traditional snail-mail, the postal office can open mail if they suspect the content. It depends on the country you live in if this happens often. In Yugoslavia and in Russia, I know that mail is still opened frequently in the year we live in now!
All e-mail you sent is coded, and the e-mail address everyone has is an unique code, as I explained before. So wherever the e-mail messages is (this can be anyw here since it is so easy to forward messages, and the internet is worldwide), it can be traced back to the country you live in, the location of the server, and they have the address you gave them when you made the contract for access.
Most countries have a privacy-law in their lawbook. But when it comes to electronic mail, these laws seem to be inadequate.
-ACCUMULATION OF E-MAIL
With all the possibilities to send out e-mail, to reply, to get on mailing-list, to multiply messages as often as you want, the amount of e-mail you get might increase rapidly. I already saw the first chain-letters in beginning 1995, and if someone does somet hing that people don't like, then an e-mail bombardment is sometimes the result. A server can even break down if too much mail comes too one address!
Because the e-mail goes so fast, the time between receiving and answering a mes sage can become very short. But mostly you need the time to think things over before you answer. I've noticed that some e-mail messages I get are quite bad written. Typing mistakes, and quick answering. Sometimes I don't bother even with answering such a message. The list of e-mail you get can grow rapidly when your address is know. I remember from my first months at the 'dds', when I even couldn't send out e-mail outside the Netherlands. I still would get lots of e-mail and it grew every month. My e-mail address was put on mailing-lists, and others who saw my name on such a mailing list, would add it to their mailing-list.
At the moment I am able to send e-mail worldwide. But I am careful with what I send. No rush mailings, but just letters I write when I feel like it. The making of a e-zine is something I was thinking of, but I haven't done it so far. I guess I am still much more in love with the traditional paper. Also large text-files aren't interesting to read, and when you add graphics to the texts, the files just get too large anyhow.
-CHANGING OF ADDRESS
The internet is a fast-changing world. If you have a printed list of addresses or homepages, than it is almost sure that it is old. The most current information is on the internet itself. There are lost of programs to find an address or to find certain information, but there is just so much out there that this 'looking for' is a job on it's own.
For e-mail addresses the changes also occur. If someone made a contract with a server, and the server changes his name, the address you have yourself also chang es. If you break your contract with a server and find a new server (with better access, lower price etc.) it isn't possible to take along your address like you could take along your phone-number of P.O. Box when you move. An address is always connected to your contract.
But what kind of disks should you use? When I started with using the computer in my mail-art I still used the 5,25 inch diskettes. Now I use 3,5 inch diskettes DD/DS type. And the most common disk nowadays is a 3,5 inch HD with 1,44 Mbyte capacity. This seems a lot, but the current programs aren't that small anymore. Also the messages I get in the E-mail sometimes aren't that small. The last issue of 'the art deadlines' I received was 51,000 bytes large (August 1995). Just one message. Also with the interviews I am doing. One interview can contain up to 12,000 words. The files get bigger and bigger.
I didn't put al the data I have on the 5,25 inch disks on 3,5 inch disks yet. Probably I should do so quickly, because the new computers probably can't read those disks. But the software I used to produce the texts, doesn't work anymore too. I already use other programs. Should I archive the programs I use too? Then the number of disks will increase rapidly. My collection of old 5,25 inch diskettes is about 500 diskettes large (with all kind of programs, texts, graphics, etc...
Of course you can print out all the things you want to save electronically. But a print- out is never the same as the electronic information. access is faster electronically, and a print-out is always a transformation from digital into analog information. The printer determines the result. The quality of the paper, the ink or cartridge, the place you keep your paper, it all becomes 'traditional archiving' as in a library.
The amount of bits you want to archive will grow with the modern software. Even with the comprimation-techniques the sizes will grow. A good thing for archiving is the CD-ROM. A large national newspaper in the Netherlands (Volkskrant) already archives his news on a CD-ROM, and for the public it is even possible to order this newspaper on CD-ROM too. Imagine, the complete volume of one year of newspa pers on one disk, and the access is even better...
-WILL IT BE ACCESSIBLE AFTER SOME TIME?
In fact you have to archive the programs. the data and the hardware! You should keep your own computer-museum or spend a lot of time in updating your data to your new hardware and software. Because this would be cumulative, this would result in more work every time you update your computer. A task not fit for a single person.
Ruud Janssen - TAM
5000 JJ Tilburg
e-mail : email@example.com
version of this text: October 1995
Reproduction of this text is allowed provided that the text isn't changed, source is mentioned, and a copy of the magazine where the text is included in, is sent to TAM / P.O.Box 10388 / 5000 JJ Tilburg / NETHERLANDS.
updated version: 30-6-1997
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