Flusser argues that personal written communications are one of the few forms of writing that are intended to convey a personal understanding of the author, not of the written artifact the author produces. I am myself when I write to my friends, and in reading my letters and emails, my friends reconstruct my self-representation as they know me. Personal affiliation amends what Foucault called the ‘author function’ (Foucault, 1969) in such a way that the author behind the ‘I’ becomes perceivable. When we increase the number of implied readers to whom a letter’s author is not personally known (represented as x), we’re reducing the identify of the author, stealing bit by bit the interpersonal, communicative functionality of a letter. I, the author known personally to you, the reader, become less myself through the interpretive forces of the unknown quantity (x).
Personal communications were once one of the only written refuges of identity, where ‘I’ referred to the author in his/her direct relation to an intended recipient. In an age where surveillance is the default setting, ‘I’ becomes even hollower on the page than Barthes, Foucault, and all the rest claimed. Moreover, its hollowness is not benign and static, but ambivalent and ephemeral, filled up by correlations to myriad points of myriad types of data at the touch of an (xkeystroke) button, rendering the author nothing more than a predictable set of patterns defined by second-hand empiricism. In a communication intercepted by (x), my ‘I’ becomes further estranged from me, as if its existence on an inanimate screen weren’t enough, and replaced by the construction of an ‘author’ unknown to (x). Thus, through surveillance, it is as though the author of an interpersonal communication is reduced to something less than a person, something artificial, constructed, and somehow hollower. As a side effect of surveillance, the author of a letter or email becomes as fictive and a priori as the author-function found in a novel.