Mobility and Literacy: Development of the Public Network Concept

Kedrick James


This paper briefly historicizes English language mail services, postal reform, and the inauguration of global delivery systems for material mails in order to outline the origins of junk mail and discursive excess in network concepts and systems. These historical developments not only made mail services affordable to common people, but also created the conditions necessary for inexpensive, rapid delivery---and dumping---of bulk advertising and circulars (the precursor of spam email) throughout the literate field of personal correspondences. From a contemporary perspective, electronic mail alters conventions that have evolved through epistolary practices. Situated on a background of a formal, dialogical ethos of personal answerability among a distributed public, mass mail makes global populations the object rather than a dialogical subject of literate relations, with consequential changes to social and cultural habits and attitudes toward personal correspondence. To conclude this paper explores global dynamics of digital correspondence that place unanswerability at the core of twenty-first century dialogical relations.

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