article by Ruud Janssen – 2001. Contains the views I saw then……..









I started using the computer for communication back in 1987 or so, but already in 1978 I was working with computers and programmable calculators for my study. At that time (mid eighties) there was the blooming time for the BBS (Bulletin Board Services). One computer could contact the other computer thanks to the telephone-line, and there was a straight (by technicians called ‘circuit-switched’) connection. The BBS-computer serves like a cell in a network, and the BBS contains info that is accessible to others. Also the BBS could call other BBS on a regular basis and so spread the information that it received.

The internet is developed in the beginning-times of the cold war. In case of a nuclear attack, the USA wanted a communication network that wouldn’t be destroyed if it would be bombed. The solution was simple and effective. Each computer in the network has to follow the same rules, and passes on information to any computer it can contact. Messages come in, and messages go out, and the direction is determined by the computer that sends out the messages. If a message is received that is meant for someone that works on the receiving computer, it is stored and the addressee can read his message. So, no fixed circuit anymore, just ‘message-switching’ as they call it.

The internet was developed for the army, but because of the effective method, and the technicians who already worked with it, soon the universities and large institutes began to use the internet too for their communication. Messages can be sent to the receiver in 1 or up to 5 minutes, and that is very fast.
In internet there is no real fixed structure anymore. There are just lots of protocols which are put down in OSI (Open Structure Inter-connection) manuals, and anybody who wants to enter the ‘network of networks’ has to use these protocols. This is the reason for the still ‘poor quality’ of the mail-services on the Internet. A fixed network can be very good and high standard, but on the internet the protocols are chosen so that everybody can communicate with anybody. And with ‘everybody’ I mean the computers. In the internet the oldest servers are determining the protocols.

But nowadays the internet is open for private persons too. They just have to make a contract with one of the companies that offers access, have their own computer and modem, and then they have an e-mail address. The form of this address indicates also where the person is located. My address e.g. is The name ‘tam’ indicates that this name is a unique name at a special server. After the @ comes the rooting address that is known in internet. The code ‘nl’ indicates that the server is located in the Netherlands, and inside the Netherlands the code ‘dds’ is known, it is the Digital City of Amsterdam (De Digitale Stad), an initiative by the former whizzkids from Hacktick, who went commercial and know all the tricks.

In October 1994 I got in contact with this ‘dds’ and since then I have an e-mail address there which makes it possible to be in touch with the internet.

Some mail-artist (like Mark Bloch and Chuck Welch in USA , Charles François in Belgium , Pawel Petasz in Poland , Rod Summers and me in Holland) used the computer already as a tool, and started with using it for communication too. The phone-bills however prevented everybody from calling each others computers. The internet in the beginning was only accessible for people/artists that were working at a large institute with a network (e.g. like an University or large scale firm), but in the beginning of the 90-ies this changes rapidly. In 1991/92 there was the REFLUX-project, where artists exchanged ideas via the internet and made propositions for projects via the internet. If I look at the address-list of the people that participated, they were mostly located at universities. Those large schools were the first to use the internet besides the government. The Reflux project went together with the DNC (Decentralized Networker Congresses), but most networkers hadn’t access to Internet-computers then. The telenetlink project by Chuck Welch in 1994/5 is just there on the right moment since also here in western-Europe, in South America, in eastern-Europe the Internet becomes accessible for more people. At the moment it is even cheaper for me to send an e-mail message to someone then a snail-letter. Especially for text-files e-mail is very cost-effective.

For visual information there is however a problem. The files are too large of size, and transmitting them on the internet takes a lot of time. The current speed of modems especially isn’t ready for that yet. The digital ISDN-network will surely change that and from that moment the speed will be high enough to send video-fragments through the internet and receive them like a TV-film. The software- and hardware-developments will determine how fast things will come to our homes, but they will come for sure.

Mail-art is an art-form that has to do with communication. Artists all over the world communicate and exchange ideas, interact to each others ideas, develop projects and exhibitions. It uses the cheapest communication-form that is accessible to all. And that is still the mail. But if you separate cost and access, the electronic highway becomes cheaper for some than the snail-mail. The condition “getting access to internet” however, is still a problem for most mail-artists I know. Just make a list of what you need: A computer, a modem, a telephone, money for the bills, and of course the knowledge to work with this hardware. Some however already have the hardware and the knowledge because of their work, and then communication by computer becomes very easy and interesting on the internet.

Of course the mail still will survive since the transport of 3D objects and original pieces of work still will be there. Digital art is very easy to duplicate and to manipulate, and some artists will not like that at all. The time that in every house there is a computer is still far away for most countries, but access to computers will be common, like access to a mail-box currently is. The internet as a communication-method is a reality that will only grow.

In the USA the Internet already is used as a common tool for computer-owners. Here in Europe it has started last year. But lots of other countries or even whole parts of the world, don’t have access yet to Internet, computers, or even the phone. Even Eastern-Europe has to catch up economically before the common people can use computers as a normal tool. Even if you live in a relative ‘rich’ country, there are some problems.


I will give some ideas about the problems that might occur when you want to use internet:


Just count how much money it costs. I know some mail-artists count too simple. They just count the access-bills and the phone-bill, but if you know a little more about economics, there are more things to pay for. You need the electricity, a place for your computer, a modem, an extra phone-access for this modem, the time to get your e-mail or to visit the homepages. If you go further, the money for renting the memory at your server for your own homepages, etc. The list of what you have to pay for gets quite long.
Of course there is a cheap way to enter the internet. In the USA it is already common that libraries and governments make it possible for the inhabitants in a large city to work on the internet. Earlier this was only possible for students and lecturers, people working at large institutes and business. Access for the average person becomes better and better. But it depends also on the wealth of a country how the infrastructure for communication is built. If you want to use internet independently you need your own private access-point and that still costs a lot of money. Here in the Netherlands the costs are dropping every half year because of the competition of internet-providers. I have even read articles where they predict that the internet-access will be free for every inhabitant of my country within a few years. The reason is simple. All communication between gouvernment, firms, etc. with privat persons via the internet is cheeper, faster, and would save the gouvernment money. Having a mail-box at a door for receiving ‘snail-mail’ is also free, so why shouldn’t the e-mail address be free?


There is another thing to think of. Even when you have a computer and a modem and access to internet, computers don’t last that long. After five years of use they normally break down. If you are depending on the computer, you will have to buy a new one, a faster one, more memory, more speed, you will have to follow the hardware changes because the servers who make your access possible will follow these changes too. An example was my own (old) computer. It is an old-fashioned DOS-machine, and the servers now work mostly on Windows. My machine can deal with the speed of communication, but the large amounts of memory it has to deal with, the speed to process this means I have to update my hardware. While writing the new version of this article I was even forced to do so, and I am now working with a Pentium-133 MHz computer with a 1GByte Harddisk, 8 Mbyte Internal RAM-memory, CD-ROM and soundcard. Forced, because my old XT-computer (with a 8088-II processor) broke down after almost 8 years of loyal service. I realized when the old computer broke down I had to get a new one and use my saving for it because I have gotten dependent on that machine.

The software used for internet gets more complex every month. This is because the structure of internet is complex too, and the software gets larger to make the access better. But it does mean that you have to update your software regularly too. Mostly the servers help you with this, but still you have to download this software now and then and have the space on your own computer to use it. The increasing of the size of software programs has a simple drive. If computers are to be used by more people, the programs should become more user-friendly. This means the software will help the user more and therefore will have to “know” more. The new Operating system I use now (Windows95) is very friendly indeed, but it consists of about 130 Mbyte of memory (my old computer only had a 20 Mbyte harddisk, so you can see how it grows!)

More important than the hardware and the software is the skills you need to work with it all. When you never worked with a computer, you probably wouldn’t read this article at all, but when you are on internet, you will discover the large world and specialties that have evolved in informatics and computerland. There are few specialist in this, and on the other side there are many people who claim to be a specialist because they sometimes know more then the non-computer user. Computer-skills come with time and practice. You can’t learn it quickly unless you have plenty of time. Even for people who work with computers all the time it is hard to keep up with all the changes.


Because mail art uses the mail, the first thing that is important in Internet for me (as a mail artist) is the use of e-mail.


There are many aspects connected to e-mail. I will discuss some of them:

E-mail is slower then a FAX, but it sure beats the snail-mail. Of course it depends too on the receiver. The e-mail message only ‘arrives’ when the receiver contacts his server. Some ‘professionals’ have arranged it so that their computer is on at some times, and that the server contacts them to upload the new mail and collects their new mail to pass on. It is like the electronic mail-man who comes to your computer to bring and collect the mail.


When you receive an e-mail message, you can quite simply manipulate it. Change some words, or even use a word-processor to change things dramatically. An example I use for my students is the ‘love-letter’. If you want to change the name of the person a letter is written to the ‘look-up and replace’ command in a word-processor is a very powerful tool.


Sending out messages, or even forwarding messages is very easy to do. When the text/message you want to send is there, the address of someone else is a simple address that is easy to type. Most servers give you the possibility of an address-book, and then a single push on a key, or a pointer from a mouse is enough to send out a message. Also for forwarding of large texts this is a work of a few seconds….


There is also the possibility to use mailing-lists. Some e-mail messages I get are sent like that. Someone has two files. One is the text he wants to send, and the other file contains all the addresses he wants the message to go too. In computer-terms they call it ‘mail-merge’. Once you have this senders-file, you can easily send out lots of mail. But remember that with a minute work you sometimes send out hundreds of letters. If everybody would reply, then it will become a problem for you to answer this.

Mostly the messages sent on this way are easy to discover. The best are the ones who have the sender list in the message, so you can actually see who else got the message too. I must admit that these messages are mostly quite impersonal, and I don’t often read them. On December 24th I suddenly got about 8 e-mail messages which were all mass-mailings. Someone had sent a friendly note to a large list of e-mail addresses. Some people on that list got anoyed by it and didn’t knew why they were on the list. They therefore replied to all people on the list that they wanted to get of that list. This triggered even more e-mails to all people on that list. It doesn’t hurt for people to read about the “unwritten rules” for using e-mail.


With the right software you can also start to do things automatically. Make a quasi personal reply to an e-mail message and send it out. It has the same function as the xeroxed answer.


If you send a message to an address that doesn’t exists. Or even when you make a small typing mistake when you type someone’s address, the message is always sent into the internet. Most postmasters (the person who is the ‘boss’ for the messages that pass his server) have the right to read any message that passes their way, and if it arrives and they don’t know where it should go to, they normally file it anyway. E-mail messages don’t cost that much memory, and better save all than loose something most postmasters think. So your message might not make it to the person you would like it to go to, but it sure will go somewhere. Sometimes even copies of messages might be saved at place you know nothing about. Just remember that if you think that e-mail is safe. A nice example I heard was of the scandal with General North. He said something, but an e-mail message that was archived proved that he was lying…


So, privacy on internet? Forget it. On the server where you log in, the postmaster has the right to read you e-mail. Of course he won’t read all the e-mail that you send out, but he is allowed too. This is not that strange, because also for the traditional snail-mail, the postal office can open mail if they suspect the content. It depends on the country you live in if this happens often. In Yugoslavia and in Russia, I know that mail is still opened frequently in the year we live in now!

All e-mail you sent is coded, and the e-mail address everyone has is an unique code, as I explained before. So wherever the e-mail messages is (this can be anywhere since it is so easy to forward messages, and the internet is worldwide), it can be traced back to the country you live in, the location of the server, and they have the address you gave them when you made the contract for access.

Most countries have a privacy-law in their lawbook. But when it comes to electronic mail, these laws seem to be inadequate.


With all the possibilities to send out e-mail, to reply, to get on mailing-list, to multiply messages as often as you want, the amount of e-mail you get might increase rapidly. I already saw the first chain-letters in beginning 1995, and if someone does something that people don’t like, then an e-mail bombardment is sometimes the result. A server can even break down if too much mail comes too one address!
Because the e-mail goes so fast, the time between receiving and answering a message can become very short. But mostly you need the time to think things over before you answer. I’ve noticed that some e-mail messages I get are quite bad written. Typing mistakes, and quick answering. Sometimes I don’t bother even with answering such a message. The list of e-mail you get can grow rapidly when your address is know. I remember from my first months at the ‘dds’, when I even couldn’t send out e-mail outside the Netherlands. I still would get lots of e-mail and it grew every month. My e-mail address was put on mailing-lists, and others who saw my name on such a mailing list, would add it to their mailing-list.

At the moment I am able to send e-mail worldwide. But I am careful with what I send. No rush mailings, but just letters I write when I feel like it. The making of a e-zine is something I was thinking of, but I haven’t done it so far. I guess I am still much more in love with the traditional paper. Also large text-files aren’t interesting to read, and when you add graphics to the texts, the files just get too large anyhow.


The internet is a fast-changing world. If you have a printed list of addresses or homepages, than it is almost sure that it is old. The most current information is on the internet itself. There are lost of programs to find an address or to find certain information, but there is just so much out there that this ‘looking for’ is a job on it’s own.

For e-mail addresses the changes also occur. If someone made a contract with a server, and the server changes his name, the address you have yourself also changes. If you break your contract with a server and find a new server (with better access, lower price etc.) it isn’t possible to take along your address like you could take along your phone-number of P.O. Box when you move. An address is always connected to your contract.
Your electronic mail arrives at your server. If you connect it, you can read your mail, and answer it. If you don’t upload or download your messages, the server-computer is the only computer who is keeping a backup of your messages. And because there is always a limit in memory-space for a computer, sooner or later the messages will be deleted. Some important servers however keep a backup of all the e-mail messages, and a General in the USA once lost his job because they traced back a message from a long time ago.

But archiving your mail means that you control the archiving-part, so you have to keep a backup of all the messages. But what to save: everything? The best archiving would be indeed to save everything. If the archiving has as purpose to document these times also the headers, the codes, the strange footers people use, the bounced messages, everything should be saved.

For E-mail the structure of the things to save luckily is quite simple. All current E-mail contains only ASCII-codes. Just these simple signs of the alphabet and our reading-signs and numbers. To save it on a disk is not that big a problem.


But what kind of disks should you use? When I started with using the computer in my mail-art I still used the 5,25 inch diskettes. Now I use 3,5 inch diskettes DD/DS type. And the most common disk nowadays is a 3,5 inch HD with 1,44 Mbyte capacity. This seems a lot, but the current programs aren’t that small anymore. Also the messages I get in the E-mail sometimes aren’t that small. The last issue of ‘the art deadlines’ I received was 51,000 bytes large (August 1995). Just one message. Also with the interviews I am doing. One interview can contain up to 12,000 words. The files get bigger and bigger.

I didn’t put al the data I have on the 5,25 inch disks on 3,5 inch disks yet. Probably I should do so quickly, because the new computers probably can’t read those disks. But the software I used to produce the texts, doesn’t work anymore too. I already use other programs. Should I archive the programs I use too? Then the number of disks will increase rapidly. My collection of old 5,25 inch diskettes is about 500 diskettes large (with all kind of programs, texts, graphics, etc…


Of course you can print out all the things you want to save electronically. But a print-out is never the same as the electronic information. access is faster electronically, and a print-out is always a transformation from digital into analog information. The printer determines the result. The quality of the paper, the ink or cartridge, the place you keep your paper, it all becomes ‘traditional archiving’ as in a library.


The amount of bits you want to archive will grow with the modern software. Even with the comprimation-techniques the sizes will grow. A good thing for archiving is the CD-ROM. A large national newspaper in the Netherlands (Volkskrant) already archives his news on a CD-ROM, and for the public it is even possible to order this newspaper on CD-ROM too. Imagine, the complete volume of one year of newspapers on one disk, and the access is even better…


In fact you have to archive the programs. the data and the hardware! You should keep your own computer-museum or spend a lot of time in updating your data to your new hardware and software. Because this would be cumulative, this would result in more work every time you update your computer. A task not fit for a single person.
Art, mail-art, or computer-art. Art is always the result of the actions of one or several artists. Everybody can look at art, use what he/she sees in his/her own proces to create new art. Copyright for art is a strange word, but for the printing-world copyright is connected to money and the source of an idea/image.

But when art becomes digital, and accessible for all (like through Internet) it is possible to copy very easily. The digital information of CD-ROMS, VIDEO-disks is already duplicated by lots of people, violating the copyright of the artists/producers. In the future the copyright will be difficult to control. Some mail-artists already have accepted that a long time ago, and in mail-art the re-using of images, ideas, etc. is widely done and mostly accepted.

The digital forms will make it even more easy to manipulate things. I remember a .GIF file I received from Rod Summers ones. I used a scanner-program to read his color-image, and then transferred it into Black and White, changed the size and printed it. I actually used these images as illustration for a booklet I published with a mail-interview I did with Rod. The manipulation of those graphic files is easy, and the results are very difficult to trace back since the changing of colors and forms is easy.

The maker of computer-art is difficult to look for sometimes. Maybe it isn’t the one who started with the collection of bits and bytes, but just the one who is currently working with it.


The terms “mail art” , “correspondence art” and “networker” are used besides each other in the mail art world. For some computer-users the word “networking” or “networker” has a different meaning then for most mail artists. They only focus on the aspect of the “net” formed by computers, and the fact that they are a part of this net. They are not specific interested in art or the aspects of communication, but mostly about the use of the computer. It is funny when these two groups meet in the inter-net world, as both can learn a lot from each other.


In the use of internet there is besides the use of e-mail also the browsing of the home-pages of the many computers connected to the internet. Everybody can design their own home-page and make it as complex as needed. Also links to other computers is no problem with the HTML-language. The difference with mail is that now the one who spreads the information and graphics, isn’t sending it to any addressee, but the one who wants the info has to look (browse) at all the info there is available in internet. There are many programs for this, but the principle is that for getting the information, graphics etc. you yourself have to take the initiative to collect it. In my eyes not comparable to the mail art since there you really send things out. In a home-page you just make things accessible for others. Sure, looking through the homepages is fun, and you can also leave e-mail at some places, but only then there is communication. Most people focus on the homepages when it comes to internet, but in my eyes the e-mail is more compatible to the snail-mail or mail art.

This is an experimental version of a text I am working on. I send out prints of it to people who I think are interested in it. As long as this sentence is under this article, please don’t duplicate or spread this article because it is a concept version you receive to comment on before my final publication! Any comments are welcome, and send them to:

Ruud Janssen – TAM
P.O.Box 1055
4801 BB Breda

e-mail :

Version of this text: 2001 , www-version 2015