As the toolbox is to the carpenter, software engineering is to the modern programmer. But, unlike the carpenter, we now live in a post-Fordist and post-Taylorist world, and the modes of production of the last century no longer matter in the world of immaterial bits. Or so the story goes. By examining the history of a single, near-ubiquitous software production tool—the source code control/versioning system—this paper reveals old modes of production in new, distributed configurations.
As computers grew in popularity in the late 1950s, and software became physically removed from computing hardware, the need for trained software programmers expanded, until in 1968 it was declared that an answer to the “software crisis” was urgently required. Simultaneously, agitation and revolt against hierarchical technocracy grew, putting computing technology front and centre in the battle for democratic ways of being. The technocratic reply was to launch the field of software engineering, and within a year the first source code control tools were developed. By 1972, Marc Rochkind developed the Source Code Control system within Bell Labs and the modern mode of software production was practically cemented. The effect of these tools was similar to the effect of factory architecture, conveyor belts, and time studies to mechanical production from earlier in the 20th century. In the late 20th century these tools developed new networked capabilities, and prompted a new distributed and collaborative mode of production—first within local networks, and then globally as the Internet reached yet further beyond these new factory walls.
Email is important. Email has been and remains a “killer app” for personal and corporate correspondence. To date, no academic or exhaustive history of email exists, and likewise, very few authors have attempted to understand critical issues of email. This paper explores the history of email syntax: from its origins in time-sharing computers through Request for Comments (RFCs) standardization. In this historical capacity, this paper addresses several prevalent historical mistakes, but does not attempt an exhaustive historiography. Further, as part of the rejection of “mainstream” historiographical methodologies this paper explores a critical theory of email syntax. It is argued that the ontology of email syntax is material, but contingent and obligatory—and in a techno–social assemblage. Email was instrumental in shifting computers from computation machines to text machines. Cryptography reappears throughout the theoretical and historical picture, as do love emails and postcards.
I will suggest that given the unlikeliness of capitalism disappearing, alienation can be reduced through radical copyright reform. Specifically, I suggest that a very broadly construed fair dealings exception would revitalize the user and his relationship to property, and therefore reduce alienation. Even with broadly construed fair dealings, however, the copyright regime is still a power institution bent on accumulating capital for the purpose of aggrandizing power. ...