3.214 citing e-documents; their nature (127)

Wed, 5 Jul 89 20:08:42 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 214. Wednesday, 5 Jul 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 05 Jul 89 10:31:21 EDT (38 lines)
From: Laine Ruus <LAINE@vm.utcs.utoronto.ca>
Subject: response to 3.198

(2) Date: 5 July 1989 (68 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: informal and trivial

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 05 Jul 89 10:31:21 EDT
From: Laine Ruus <LAINE@vm.utcs.utoronto.ca>
Subject: response to 3.198

In response to the suggestion in item 3.198 on the subject
that there should be a citation format for electronically
published materials - one was produced as early as 1979.
The citation of the article in which it was outlined follows:

Dodd, Sue. Bibliographic references for numeric social
science data files: suggested guidelines. ASIS journal
30(2):77-82, 1979.

The problem is not with the lack of a format - the problems
are (a) to get authors, editors, and publishers to begin to
routinely cite and require the citation of electronic publications,
(b) the format above was developed for primary data files, the
production of which is often no less labourious than writing and
having published a traditional printed book. It can, however
be adapted to serve any number of electronic 'formats' (by
which I mean the electronic versions of monographs,
serials, maps, correspondence, etc.)
I do not dispute that the pearls of wisdom dropped in this
electronic mailing list should be considered, for citation
purposes, as some sort of publication - I do however dispute
that the amount of thought and effort put into the polish and
intellectual content equals that put into more traditional
academic publications, such as monographs, periodical articles,
full text files of Milton, etc. Thus I really do not think that
electronic mailing lists require ISBNs, nor anything much more
formal by way of identification than author, electronic
mailing list identification, number, and date, as well of course
as medium designator. If ISBNs are eventually applied to
electronic publications, they will undoubtedly be applied to
less trivial products, such as the individual texts listed in the
OTA shortlist, or the TLG list, etc., but not to informal e-mail
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 5 July 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: informal and trivial

My colleague Laine Ruus writes,

"If ISBNs are eventually applied to electronic publications, they
will undoubtedly be applied to less trivial products, such as
the individual texts listed in the OTA shortlist, or the TLG
list, etc., but not to informal e-mail offerings."

For what it's worth, I too think that ISBNs are a bit much for
electronic forums such as Humanist, but I cannot let pass without
comment the equation she makes between "informal" media of
publication and things "trivial".

It is natural enough for someone familiar with electronic chatter to
despair at the ratio of intelligent thoughts to words. As I've said
before, when I started Humanist I was driven by the desire to improve
the overall usage of the electronic medium and to see if that ratio
could be raised. (I hasten to add that I did not have a very wide
experience with electronic discussions, so my ambitions were fueled by
no comprehensive judgment.) Improvement was and is not merely a question
of discipline (or, rather, self-discipline) but equally one of identity:
what is electronic publication? how does it relate to other forms
of "making public"? what are its inherent characteristics?
Humanist's membership has shown that electronic mail and literate
English are not incompatible. Humanists have done this by disciplining
themselves to take some care with what they write. At the same time
Humanist has evolved with the gradual discovery of what the medium is
and what it is and is not good for. I would argue that although it may be
used in a trivial way, there is nothing inherently trivial about it.

Informality does seem inherent, however. In terms of formality,
electronic seminars such as Humanist can, I think, be located somewhere
between the written letter or essay and the spoken conversation or
unprepared talk. Perhaps not less care but certainly less
self-censorship or regulation goes into an electronic piece than into a
written one, at least under such circumstances as ListServ provides. At
the same time, we e-mailers are naturally more sparing with what we type
into our computers that what we might speak into a telephone or at a
convivial gathering.

Apart from the exchange of raw information, things like Humanist seem
to be particularly suited to free-ranging discussion, during which some
truth emerges. A creative combination of watchfulness and relaxation
allows for discovery that, I think, would not otherwise happen. We can
and frequently do try out ideas in a way not possible elsewhere. Perhaps
we like Humanist partly because such give-and-take of ideas is not
something we can easily find among our face-to-face colleagues anymore,
who are too busy being pressured and so cannot easily think slowly
and generously about important matters the world has no time for.
In any case, with e-mail "talking" one's way to understanding is
possible. A certain amount of irrelevance, of plain BS will of course
happen. That doesn't mean that the medium or its works is
trivial, nor even that it is ultimately without form (in-formal),
just that one keeps an open mind about the form that will emerge. The
trick is to (a) have a mind, and (b) keep it open. Putting those two
conditions together successfully isn't easy, but we seem to do it
often enough to keep alive some faith in the possibility of thought.

I say that it is as crucial to have a principle of irrelevance as it is
to be able to recognize the relevant stuff when it walks by.

Comments, please.

Willard McCarty