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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: January ::
Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0025. Wednesday, 12 January 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Tom Loughlin <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jan 1994 10:34:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0024 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
(2)     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jan 94 11:55:53 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
(3)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jan 1994 12:34:33 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
(4)     From:   Mary Jane Miller <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jan 94 13:50:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
(5)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jan 1994 19:55:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
(6)     From:   Vint Cerf <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jan 94 05:33 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Loughlin <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jan 1994 10:34:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0024 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0024 Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
> Not only does e-mail seem to be easily misinterpreted, it seems to be
> misinterpreted negatively. Several people in this forum have mentioned
> that SHAKSPER doesn't suffer the flames that many other groups do. That
> implies that other groups do suffer from this--and I would obviously
> agree. Does e-mail lend itself to caustic or defensive interpretation
> leading to aggresive response? If so, why? And if so, what are the
> pedagogical implications? Is it the nature of this particular beastie or a
> reflection of our own general culture?
>
> 
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My own personal experience with this medium is that, because of the
fact that at this point in time access to the Internet, while growing, is
not widespread, and that you need to be fairly computer-literate to
function within the medium, it has a tendency to attract intellectually
aggressive personalities, people who like to get out on the "cutting
edge," if you will.  They would be the kind of people who would cause a
stir no matter what environment they would find themselves in.  Some
lists are a great deal more assertive than others, depending on the
nature of the list.  SHAKSPER happens to be a fairly mild list in terms
of flame wars, but get on a political list or a sports list and see the
difference.
 
And, of course, some people catch the flow of a list and temper
themselves accordingly.  This list, for example, is IMHO populated mostly
with literature/scholar types, while I approach WS almost exclusively
from the theatrical side.  I think old Willy would be horrified if he
came back today and saw the volumes of stuff written *about* him vrs. the
few, mostly shabby, times he's produced on stage.  I think he'd like to
take a torch to the whole volume of works on his plays and say, "Stop
writing about them!  Just do them!"  But of course, being the polite,
collegial person that I am deep down in my heart, I respect the fact that
this list tends to the literary and don't try to upset the apple cart too
often.  This also helps to keep flame wars from bursting out too often on
the better lists, like this one.
 
I assume, given the temperments and opinions expressed recently on this
list, no emoticons are necessary.  I'd like to take this opportunity to
beg forgiveness for my silliness in using them in the past.  How foolish
it was of me to think that some inane little graphic could possibly help
me to express myself better.  How immature I was to ever possibly imagine
that a few little strokes of my keyboard, rendering such pale little
ASCII graphics, could replace or enhance my pitiful words.  I most humbly
ask my august colleagues on this list who were subjected to my use of
these ridiculous characters in the past to please, please forgive me.
 
      Tom Loughlin
      
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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jan 94 11:55:53 EST
Subject: 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
Hope Greenberg raises a number of interesting questions; I have nothing like
definitive answers, but I do offer the following comments.
 
First, an e-mail message on a discussion list is read by literally hundreds
(thousands on some lists) of people.  If even a tiny percentage of those
people misinterpret a remark, the possibility of a "flame" is fairly high.  I
have seen this phenomenon not infrequently on other lists: two or three
flames may seem like a lot (certainly to the recipient), but may well
represent less than one tenth of one per cent of the people who read the
original message.  The problem is exacerbated on e-mail because we are
generally alone when we read messages.  If we are enraged by something in a
speech to an audience of 1000, chances are we'll sputter to our friends in
the lobby after the speech is over: and they'll have the opportunity to say,
"I don't think s/he meant x; I think s/he meant that not x isn't always
true", or whatever.  And of course the responders are more often those who
disagree profoundly: few of us want to read (or write) a host of messages of
the sort, "John Doe makes an excellent point", unless that assertion is
followed by either a "but" or further elaboration.
 
Secondly, the means of responding to e-mail is immediately at hand when we
receive the original message.  We don't have to go home, to find the writing
pad, etc.  If we're at the screen, we're also at the keyboard, and the
"return" button is readily at hand.  So sober contemplation is no longer a
structural requirement.
 
Thirdly, e-mail is in many ways anonymous.  Of all the folks on the SHAKSPER
list, I can recall ever meeting only two in person: and neither of them are
close friends (fine people, both, but our paths have seldom crossed).  It's
easier to flame a faceless screenname than a real person.  I saw an example
of this a few weeks ago on another list.  I was just plain scorched by
someone I've never met.  I subsequently received a private message from a
friend of his (whom I have never met, but with whom I've had a number of
e-mail and telephone conversations): she apologized on his behalf, agreed
that the question I had asked was indeed legitimate, and asked me not to let
on to him that she had sided with me on this issue.  In other words, she was
unwilling to state publicly that she even disagreed with her friend.  And,
frankly, we all have that tendency.
 
Finally, while only Hardy Cook knows how many messages he zaps before they're
read by the multitudes, the mere fact that this list is moderated suggests
that the concept of prior restraint may not be an exclusively journalistic
phenomenon.  And, of course, it takes a little more effort to subscribe to
SHAKSPER than most lists.  Plus, of course, we're all such thoughtful and
sensitive people...
 
Rick Jones

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jan 1994 12:34:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
TO: Hope Greenberg
 
Your question about email ethics is interesting.  Here's an amateur
sociologist's thoughts:
 
I don't think that the "flaming" aspects of email are unique to this
medium -- people have long grabbed virtriolic pens to dash off angry
letters to editors of newspapers or magazines.  But many of those are
never mailed and fewer still get published -- and even those are subject
to editing.  Email, like talk radio, is generally unedited, and is even
easier to get onto than talk radio (which, by the by, I cannot abide).
It requires little forethought to use, and provides no opportunity for
the cautious afterthought that might overtake one while sealing an
envelop or driving (no one walks anymore) to the P.O.  There are also
virtually no social restraints on the isolated individual in front of
the terminal:  if you see a text that angers you, there is no individual
physically evident behind it to soften your raw reaction, and no
roomful of bystanders to keep you in line with social pressure (or
physical restraint).  If having my say is important to me, I can have it,
and by gawd, everyone else better look out!  As a result, we wind up
with a "virtual reality donnybrook":  hand-to-hand combat with no one
there!  Another case of an adrenalin rush with no physical stimulus or
reaction -- some biologists think this is a major problem with modern
life.
 
Why aren't SKAKSPERian emailer's more vitriolic?  Maybe we watch less
television.  Maybe from the Bard we've learned to keep an ironic distance
from our anger.  Maybe we're a kinder and gentler breed.  Maybe we are
more careful with our words.  Maybe we're polite to a fault.  Maybe
we're afraid for our reputations!
 
Here we are discussing the means of discussing Shakespeare.  Is this a
post-modern dialogue?  Have we had fun yet?
 
Jim Schaefer

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(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mary Jane Miller <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jan 94 13:50:26 -0500
Subject: 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
Dear Hope,
 
I share your curiosity. SCREEN-L had a flamer on political correctness that
seems to have resulted in silence from some of the most interesting voices-
a [self-imposed] silence of some months. Perhaps this "thin medium" is too
easy to use. It lends itself to late night impulsiveness, lacks the nuance
of intonation, inflection, body language and in many cases the over-all
context provided by long aquaintance. Yet it can be printed out - given
permanent form so that no-one can claim that he/she "didn't really say
that". Finally, deliberately or inadvertently [ I have seen both, I think],
exchanges like these are given weight by public distribution creating
camps or sides. This is the only electronic conference I read in which
people tend to measure their words, write careful, often graceful prose,
and regularly greet and say farewell to each other.  Is Shakespeare, even
on e-mail, some sort of Arnoldian touch-stone for courtesy? Regards, Mary
Jane.
 
Mary Jane Miller

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(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jan 1994 19:55:03 -0400
Subject: 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
Just a quick, thin, note Hope.  You might note that the opposite is also
true.  Not only do we tend to attack people we don't see more readily
(a parallel to Hamlet stabbing Polonius behind the arras?) but also we
tend to help people we have never met very readily.  Look at the
SHAKSPERians who jump at every request for bibliographic references
or other information!
 
If I remember correctly, there was an article in a backissue of compuserve
magazine (I know, I went over briefly to the dark side of privately-owned
networks) about a fellow doing a Ph.D. in sociology on how people communicate
on lists.
 
Best of luck,
        Sean Lawrence
        
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(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Vint Cerf <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jan 94 05:33 EST
Subject: 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0024  Re: E-Mail: A Thin Communication Medium?
 
See Connections by Sara Kiesler and Lee Sproull (MIT Press, I think, 1990??).
They make the point that informal discourse in written form often seems far
more assertive than the same oral communication. Thinks look/feel/sound far
more absolute in the written form. So anything which might be interpreted as
criticism takes on an extre measure of impact because of its written form.
 
It's a serious problem. Experienced email users have learned to recognize when
a discussion has gotten out of hand and to find a face-to-face or at least
mouth-to-ear mode of communication.
 
Vint
 

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