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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: January ::
Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0013.  Thursday, 6 January 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Tom Davey <IZZYOM8@UCLAMVS.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Jan 94 20:47 PST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0010 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
(2)     From:   Michael Sharpston <
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        Date:   Thursday, 06 Jan 1994 17:07:00 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0010 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Davey <IZZYOM8@UCLAMVS.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 05 Jan 94 20:47 PST
Subject: 5.0010 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0010 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
Jon Enriquez agrees with Michael Sharpston that e-mail is a "thin communication
medium," but that tonal and emotional shadings can be conveyed by the so-called
"emoticons" like ;) (irony) and :-< (disapproval).
 
I'm afraid I disagree.  Irony and far subtler nuances have flourished in
printed discourse for centuries without recourse to special typographical
signals or graphical heighteners.  Before penning this note, I consulted the
work of one of the supreme ironists in the language, Edward Gibbon, and I
failed to find a single emoticon.  Just bare type and the occasional scathing
quotation marks, the same "thin" tools I have available here in cyberspace.
 
The real point to be made about e-mail as a medium, I think, is that we
generally dash off our notes spontaneously and with the same lack of
forethought with which we speak.  But whereas we rely on tone of voice and body
language to save our conversation from being misinterpreted, we have no such
auxiliaries for e-mail--hence our anxiety the medium somehow lacks expressive
power.  Not so.  If we treated e-mail for what it is, writing, instead of the
textual equivalent of a message left on an answering machine (the polished
contributions to this list are emphatically excepted), there might be gains for
both communication and literacy all around.
 
As I tell my students, regarding emoticons, just say no.
 
   Tom Davey
   Department of English, UC Los Angeles
   
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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Sharpston <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Jan 1994 17:07:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0010 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0010 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
I liked Jon Enriquez' comment, but it also showed me that my earlier posting
suffered from ellipsis.
 
First, E-mail.  All those faces which he documents so well show very clearly
the disadvantages of 'standard' E-mail -- no body language, no tone of voice
and so on.  He is completely correct that with 'augmented' E-mail people can
and do find ways around this problem.  Post augmentation, the medium is
significantly less 'thin'.
 
Second, the comparison I was trying to make with say Ben Johnson and his
masques.  If WE (NOT the people of the time) try to understand when irony is
and is not intended, we are in some ways confronted with a problem similar to
that of unaugmented E-mail and irony.  Ben Johnson and his original audience
are dead.  We cannot experience live body language to US, (although we might
possibly be able to read reports of body language at the time to others).  We
cannot hear a tone of voice, see and interpret a cock of the eye.  We are not a
member of King James' court...  We have certain records (the text, a tradition
about it), some knowledge of a context... But still there is a relatively
'thin' communication medium between Ben Johnson and us.
 
          Michael Sharpston
          
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