Postscripts in the electronic age

When ARPANET engineer Ray Tomlison sent the first email in 1971, written communication was not going to be the same again. Tomlison sent the first email to himself as a test. The first kick of the electronic newborn was a reflexive gesture.

Tomlison’s first email was also to be the last chapter in the history of letter-writing. And the decline of written correspondence was also promising to be the disappearance of the postscript.

That did not happen. The P.S. did not die.

In fact, postscripts have proliferated in the age of electronic messaging.

Electronic postscripts are nonsensical. A postscript is an afterthought written after the uneditable text. The postscript is an admission of the permanence of writing. It is also an admission of laziness or a statement about importance. ‘P.S. I’d also love you to come means’ ‘I am writing this now because I did not think of it at the time of writing the letter. I’d rather add it here at the end than write a new letter altogether.’

Emails are released from these constraints. No postscript is needed when all you have to do is move the cursor up a few lines or paragraphs and edit the text. Yet, we still like to end our emails with unexpected pee-esses. We think they gives our e-letters the patina and permanence of written epistles. We like the illusion of the stream of consciousness the postscript promotes. The e-postscript is a trace of the embodiment of writing. It is also evidence of our awareness of loss of something human, situated and enduring in the post-print age.

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