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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories discusses...

The Early Days of E-Mail

Charles B Pettis’ “How I Learned to Love the Internet” appears in this issue.


[Bill Kowaleski] Microsoft Outlook allows you to request a “read receipt” from the person to whom you are sending the message. But this doesn’t really work very well, since the mail agent of the recipient must support return receipts, which Apple Mail does not.

Some ISPs will send you a message if the e-mail account has been deleted, but not all do that. And the worst problem is abandoned e-mail accounts that suck up messages into a black hole of non-response. So it all works much like snail-mail. You put it in the mailbox and cross your fingers.


[Don Webb] Thanks for the explanation, Bill. Digging into my random-access memory here, you seem to be describing the situation as it was back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nothing much seems to have changed.

After forwarding messages to authors, I try to remember to tell the senders that I’ll report if the message bounces; otherwise, we can assume it’s been received. I suppose it goes without saying that there’s no way to tell whether the recipient has actually seen it.

For example, one of our early contributors said she’d never received our customary preview notices when one of her stories was going to appear in the next week’s issue. No wonder: the notices had gone to an account she’d abandoned but not discontinued.

Back in 1990, e-mail could actually be slower than “snail mail.” Messages sometimes disappeared entirely en route. Or successive ones might pile up in a server and be downloaded suddenly into the recipient’s inbox like the contents of an upended mailbag shaken out on a table.

And server clocks were often off. Sometimes way off. Messages might be received a day before they were sent. I was tempted to ask for tips on horse races.

In 1991, I won the “Bug of the Year” award twice:

I somehow managed to put a folder inside itself on a Vax 8800. The contents became trapped as though inside a Klein Bottle. The techs said, “Please don’t do that, whatever it was.” I don’t think they ever figured out what happened.

Later that year, modem line noise entered weird characters in the “To” line of some messages. My e-mail went to the first fifty addresses in the database of a Cyber 960 located in Long Beach, California. I got befuddled responses. “Yogi T. Bear” replied, “And good night to you, too, sweetums.”

A tech in Long Beach commiserated with immortal words: “It’s no surprise the system works so poorly. The really amazing thing is that it works at all.”


Responses welcome!

date Copyright July 24, 2017 by Bewildering Stories

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