Could Spambots Exist in Victorian England? and other questions about technology, society, and communication

Short Form


As a tool for human communication, the internet has successes and failures. It allows us to meet people, collaborate, strengthen communities, and learn new things. It also enables oppression, harassment, and noise. These problems aren't new, but choices made in constructing the internet have often served to blindly facilitate their spread. Instead of continuing to assume that the technical, social, and economic constraints that kept such problems from destroying past systems will continue to hold, let's break down what's different from then to now, and find a new set of solutions.


We can compare: the technologies used for communication in Victorian England and worldwide today, and the structures around each set of technologies that control who has access to communication, what it costs, and who has authority over it. Together we’ll break out the implications for oppression, harassment, and unwanted noise. At the end we’ll try to sort out how analyzing these structures can help us create better communication infrastructure for the future.

There will be plenty of bonus anecdotes about Victorian letter writing etiquette, and a little navel gazing about the glorious promises of the internet to bring us all together in sharing our knowledge (and where that went wrong).


victorians, email, postal systems, communication, infrastructure

Speaking experience

I've spoken at Open Source Bridge in the past, including a talk called "The Fine Line Between Creepy and Fun" which relates to this one. I also spoke at SecondConf in Chicago in 2011 about geography and technology, and have spoken at local community events. And OSCON.


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    Audrey Eschright

    Recompiler Media


    Audrey is a software developer, community organizer, and activist based in Portland, OR. She founded Calagator, an open source community calendaring service, and co-founded Open Source Bridge, an annual conference for open source citizens. She is the editor and publisher of The Recompiler, a magazine about technology and participation.