Slave in the Machine

In his book Deep Time of The Media on page 72, in chapter about early cryptography experiments, Siegfried Zielinski describes the way messages were delivered long long time ago:

“As a rule, messengers were slaves, with their bodies to undertake the journey, their minds to understand the message, and mouths to repeat it accurately to the recipient. In our world of networked machines and programs, the problem of keeping communications secret has still not been solved. In anthropomorphic metaphor that refer to those ancient slaves’ bodies, we still refer to the header and body of a message.”

That is of course a big exaggeration. Нead and body metaphors did not come to email from our memory about slaves who were delivering their masters’ correspondence. Head and body of the message are not referring at all to heads and bodies of slaves. Their meaning is actually almost the opposite. In English head and body in their meaning of upper part and main part are used in paper layouts, and in programming and scripting languages. And from there they came to email.

For example, on a printed page the head is the part might contain the name of the newspaper and page numbers, the body is the actual content. In programming languages, header-files contain defintions about the code that is stored in another file.

However, these are just associations and metaphors. What really worries me is that slave labor is still used in digital interfaces, in particular for cursor moving.


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