Medieval Royal Seals at the National Archives, London

One chapter of Waiting for Word looks at how power allows people to wait differently, often giving them immunity from waiting altogether. Yet, how does someone in a position of power exert his or her influence from a distance? How does the power get communicated through messages where the person can’t be present to assert their own authority? This is one of the primary dilemmas with messages — they remove the communicator from the person they want to communicate with. The medium of that message (whether it come in the form of a letter, an oral message, or text message on a mobile device) must communicate that person’s presence and position. That is, the message itself and the medium on which it’s conveyed have to do a lot of heavy lifting to carry the sender’s identity as someone in power. How is this done?

One piece of this book looks at an important attempt to communicate power through messages (and thus shift the waiting time for messages and their responses): medieval seals that signified the status of the person sending the message. These were marks on a message that let the recipient know the prominence of the one sending the message and that a response should not waste the valuable time of this important person. This chapter tells the many stories of when message delays — especially when a quick response was expected as part of the social code — shifted the course of history. Power, privilege, and expectations of quick responses have been bound together in how people in different social standings experience waiting.

I was able to spend quite a bit of time at the British National Archives in London looking through these amazing artifacts. Holding seals and documents that were created over 900 years ago was such a rewarding and unique experience for me as a scholar who has almost entirely studied the digital age. Below are some of the great images I captured of these seals.

Jason Farman

Jason Farman is an Associate Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is also the Director of the Design Cultures & Creativity Program and a faculty member with the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. He is author of the book Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media (winner of the 2012 Book of the Year Award from the Association of Internet Researchers). He is the editor of the books The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies (Routledge, 2014) and Foundations of Mobile Media Studies: Essential Texts on the Formation of a Field (Routledge, 2016). His current book, Delayed Response, will be published in 2018 by Yale University Press. He has published scholarly articles on such topics as mobile technologies, the history of technology, digital maps and cultural geography, locative and site-specific art, videogames, digital storytelling, performance art, social media, and surveillance. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television.

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