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Version vom 8. Oktober 2014, 09:45 Uhr

Auszüge aus H.Hrachovec RFCs, MOOs, LMSs: Assorted Educational Devices

Origins are auratic places or events. This holds true both for high and low culture. The socalled "birth of an idea" is just as likely to be a distinguished event as the rise of a pop star. The same thing does not seem to hold for engineering, yet it is difficult to avoid a shiver of awe and recognition when reading the opening sentence of John Postel's "Request for Comments" #821. We are dealing with the foundational document of what was to become electronic mail. The document is dated August 1982 and it starts off with the following remark:

"The objective of Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is to transfer mail reliably and efficiently."

The sentence seems inconspicuous at first glance. Given the common concept of "mail" the protocol is supposed to ensure its implementation in a networked environment. But there is more beneath the surface of this plain, no-nonsense statement. Notice the implicit discrepancy of cultures. There have been countless attempts to "transfer mail reliably and efficiently" within the framework of traditional services. John Postel refers back to precedents as he introduces a new development.

This is the treshhold at which mail enters the realm of telecommunication. One might call it an act of baptism. We are to be given the outlines of the "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol". "Mail" is no homonym like "Paris" in "Paris, Texas". The working of the term is closer to "New England" which indicates the transference of a certain set of social and cognitive attitudes into a largely unknown environment.

There is no paper involved in this kind of "mail", to pick just the most obvious difference. Sociohistorical projections and questions of technological design are inextricably interwoven at the very beginning of this new area as engineers apply their common sense understanding of mail to a context lacking the appropriate precedents.