CCT Thesis Presentation: Private Post: Personal Messaging in U.S. Postal and Electronic Mail by Rebecca C. Kielty
The U.S. Postal Service and commercial email emerged from the same country in different eras. Both are communication networks, but each born out of unique needs. Revolutionaries needed a means to send messages and news, untrammeled by British surveillance. Researchers using the Arpanet in the 1960s and 1970s turned their networked computers to the task of relaying messages, to share research and chat amongst each other. From these origins, the networks were adopted by military members, businesses, and eventually brought into U.S. homes. This work explores the two networks’ development trajectories, with special attention to when each network is used to transmit personal or private messages. The author asks, are analogies used to link the older postal mail network and the email products home users adopted in the 1990s? And do such analogies create potential for privacy harms, given the functional and legal differences between postal mail and email in the U.S.?
To answer this, each trajectory was mapped in reviews of literature, and interviews were conducted with experts in U.S. communications history, internet consumer privacy, and the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The author concludes that there is some evidence of postal analogies used to understand email, but that further research is needed to ascertain whether this influences homeusers. The differences between the way messages in each network are accessed for legal and business purposes do have impacts for users’ privacy, and in closing the author offers suggestions for how this information could be presented to a public audience.
Friday, April 13 at 1:30pm to 2:45pm
Car Barn, 101
3520 Prospect St., N.W., Washington