3.495 e-mail and Humanist (209)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 26 Sep 89 21:02:14 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 495. Tuesday, 26 Sep 1989.

(1) Date: 26 September 1989 (49 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: e-mail and Humanist

(2) Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 08:22 EDT (42 lines)
From: John McDaid <MCDAID@NYUACF>
Subject: Re:3.493 (H)e-mail

(3) Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 16:18:26 CDT (43 lines)
From: "Norman D. Hinton" <SSUBIT12@UIUCVMD>
Subject: E-mail in classes: e-mail characteristics

(4) Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 18:11:52 EDT (25 lines)
Subject: The nature of e-mail and/or naked Humanists

(5) Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 13:58:00 EDT (13 lines)
From: DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [3.478 essential purpose of HUMANIST? (was no more hearts)]

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 September 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: e-mail and Humanist

The following collection of notes wanders from consideration of e-mail
in general to observations about Humanist in particular. Evidently some
of us feel the cold sting of puritanical seriousness in my exercise of
editorial authority, when I told those who like to talk about displaced
parts that they have said too much. The Puritan way has its virtues,
but these I don't want to assert at the moment. I think something
far more interesting is involved.

One of the most delightful aspects of Humanist is surely the exercise
of wit. Pure exchanges of *information* would bore us all, or most of
us. Exclusively serious argumentation would, I think, lead to a
deadly combination of hardened egos and terminal depression.
The leavening of wit, and the fresh winds of chance that apparent
irrelevance allows, are the stuff of life, no?

I keep thinking that fundamentally we lack a clear
understanding of how meaning arises from discourse, and with heads
muddled about such a basic issue we tend to misunderstand how a
phenomenon like Humanist really works. Some of us (a moment of silence
for the departed Rahtz) want no control whatsoever; some of us would
take a much sterner hand to those who run on beyond the bounds of what
will compute. I maintain that to strike for the middle ground is not
really just or even primarily a compromise, rather an exercise of the
ancient instinct to impose structure on what is beyond structure. The
trick is to do so without falling fatally in love with the structure, to
derive from that structure what it can give, and when it can give no
more to abandon it for another. The solution is, in my mind, to exercise
mindfulness about what we're doing. As several people have noted, we are
semiotically impoverished, having no sight beyond the alphabet, no
hearing, no sense of smell. We're also constricted by the tolerance of
our membership for large volumes of mail that individuals may happen to
have no use for. So, your editor's job is occasionally to supply the
lack of a rude noise or two and a few nervous twitches on behalf of
those who cannot handle quantities of mail that lie outside our explicit
mandate. I suspect that anyone who does not like supposedly irrelevant
wit will quit Humanist rather quickly. But very large numbers will
surely resign if Humanist becomes a playground where the play has no
serious aspect and useful information is obliterated by sportful noise.

No one has charted this course before. We can do whatever we like. I
listen constantly for intelligent suggestions.

Willard McCarty

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------48----
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 08:22 EDT
From: John McDaid <MCDAID@NYUACF>
Subject: Re:3.493 (H)e-mail

In 3.493 (nature of e-mail, cntd) James O'Donnell writesI

>2. The advance of technology is ever more angelic: the other participants on
>HUMANIST appear to me as pure, disembodied intelligences.

>3. True of e-mail generally and not just HUMANIST: this is not an activity
>anybody would ever get involved in (to put this as crudely as possible) as a
>way to meet girls. That is worrisome. (Unless there is a net called FEMINIST
>whirring away somewhere I don't know about: I hope so.)

I'd like to take his second point first. One might hope that by "girls,"
O'Donnell is not referring to female minors but rather "women." A semantic
critique, perhaps, but how seriously does this encourage us to take the point?
Imagine the "opposite" case, a HUMANIST wondering if her colleagues use the
medium as a way to meet "boys." Ack.

By rephrasing to avoid gender/preference stereotypes, O'Donnell might be saying
that e-mail is not an activity anybody would ever get involved in as a way to
meet potential friends and/or sexual partners. If he is indeed saying that,
then he is ignoring much of the information from MINITEL and has never spent
time on the commercial network CB channels or RELAY. I have anecdotal evidence
of a couple who met over RELAY, developed a relationship although they were 400
miles apart, and now live together in Boston. (Hi Marty. Hi Ron.) I do not
presume that such examples are the rule, but I take issue with O'Donnell's
gen(d)eralization. His tacit opposition of HUMANISTS and FEMINISTS is something
I can not imagine civilized persons condoning.

To take his first point second: to treat electronic communications as the
emanations of "pure, disembodied intelligences" is to ignore everything we
know (or think we know) about rhetoric. The presentation of self is always
a process of employing interface-specific rhetorics. To lose sight of this
is to fall prey to the numbing of awareness McLuhan warned us about: we
fail to see a new medium as a medium because it is environmental. Such
uncritical responses to new media leave us most at risk for being shaped
by the technology rather than the other way around. Rather than ever more
"angelic," one would hope that technologies will be ever more "human."

-John McDaid
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------51----
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 16:18:26 CDT
From: "Norman D. Hinton" <SSUBIT12@UIUCVMD>
Subject: E-mail in classes: e-mail characteristics

1) in response to the query about e-mail in classes: for the past 17 years
I have been involved with Computer Assisted Instruction on the PLATO
system, and I have used what PLATO calls "notesfiles" for extended class
discussion on several occasions. There is a "Yogi Berra" factor: if they
don't want to use it, you can't make them, or at least you won't get good
results. But one spectacular success is probably worth talking about in
context of the request. It was an Intro to Linguistics class: since I
had a number of CAI lessons that were required, the class took advantage
of the E-Mail/notesfile. One student was the sort that simply does not
talk in class: he sat there looking glum most of the time. But when the
E-Mail facility became part of the class, he blossomed: his opinions on
linguistic problems, and the depth of his study became apparent to me
and to the other students. Before long they were asking him questions about dif
ficult concepts, both in and out of class.
Oddly enough, his class behavior changed very little: he would answer
a direct question, but grudgingly and in as few words as possible. But his
E-mail style grew more and more animated and even spritely. By the end of
the term, we all knew that he was one of the best students in the course.

2) E-mail behavior: again, from years of experience on PLATO, I have
seen a lot of mail. Besides the "notesfiles" (the rough equivalent of a Bitnet
discussion group), one can receive individual E-Mail ("psersonal notes, or
"pnotes", in PLATO parlance), and one can "talk" in real time with another
user. In general, I would say that E-mail can sometimes lend itself to
rather sweeping personality changes: not only for the good, as noted above,
but for the bad. It is much more common for E-mail correspondents to be
grumpy and ill-tempered than in any other kind of communication I know:
to my horror, I have seen myself doing it from time to time. Also, as
has been noted in HUMANIST, one's correspondents take on a sort of
electronic personality. Meeting a PLATO correspondent in person is
sometimes quite a shock. I find that PLATO writers often write much
better in E-mail than in other communication forms, albeit in a some-
what compressed and telegraphic fashion. Finally, contrary to a previous
HUMANIST note, one can, in fact, meet girls. I have not (being happily
married for rather a number of years), but I know of several occasions
in which personal notes, writing in notesfiles, and "talk"ing, couples
have become engaged and gotten married (though I must note one occasion
upon which, when meeting face to face, the boy and girl didn't like
each other after all.)
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------33----
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 18:11:52 EDT
Subject: The nature of e-mail and/or naked Humanists

Responding as a Humanist of the female gender to James O'Donnell's plaint
about not meeting "girls" on this forum: there is not, to my knowledge
a subterranean "Feminist" discussion group, and I would be sad if
there were a need for such a separatist discussion. There is, however,
something daunting about the HUMANIST discussion, speaking strictly
for myself, insofar as people seem to feel a need to be "serious"!
Which translates into neutral discussions of hard/software and a
puritanical grumbling concerning the more free-wheeling, very
humanistic discussions such as the one about Fraktured Hearts, or
an earlier discussion of the linguistic dynamics of e-mail,
which seems unfortunately to have died out..

I agree with Roy Flannagan's comments on the same subject, although
I'm not about to describe my state of dress or undress while writing
this. The image of Humanists being in a less than formal state
because of the medium of the message is one that strikes me as
accurate. I hope there is room in this discussion for both the
technies and the dreamies (forgive the term), that we may both
discuss technology and also, as humanists, allow free rein to the
inspired meanderings of the intellectual muse....
(5) --------------------------------------------------------------21----
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 13:58:00 EDT
From: DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [3.478 essential purpose of HUMANIST? (was no more hearts)]

I'd like to support Brian Whittaker's point. Humanist is surely invaluable
in invoking the assistance of a far greater number of colleagues than
otherwise available in ferreting out obscure bits of information. For
that reason, I was a littl sorry that Moses' dinosaurs got so swiftly
squashed, though I fully appreciate Willard's dilemma as editor.
I do though much appreciate the policy of putting long announcements
on the listserver, which surely gets the best of both worlds. Could
not a massive amount of mail in response to a particular item be treated
likewise? Meanwhile, Thank you Willard for the hard work.

[You're welcome, but as someone else said, my burden is light..... -W.M.]