3.1143 e-texts; e-mail (117)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Wed, 7 Mar 90 08:17:16 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1143. Wednesday, 7 Mar 1990.

(1) Date: Mon, 05 Mar 90 22:03:59 MST (20 lines)
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Eschewing e-texts

(2) Date: 6 March 1990 (49 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: etexts not the same

(3) Date: Wed, 7 Mar 90 05:45:00 EST (23 lines)
From: TRACY LOGAN <LOGANT@lafayett>
Subject: success story, following a header

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 05 Mar 90 22:03:59 MST
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Eschewing e-texts

In response to Michael Hart's query: I like e-texts, but only for
certain purposes such as for concording, collocational analysis,
style analysis, or even just for quick searches for a passage I want.
I wouldn't actually want to read one, though. Call me atavistic, but
I like the feel of books and the sense I get of the size of a work by
whether or not it's breaking my knees on the bus. As for actually
spending the hours necessary to read a whole e-text--well, it's a
lot like staring into a light bulb. As a graduate assistant, I proof-
read nearly a thousand pages of medieval poetry for an authorship study,
and although grateful for the opportunity to read that much poetry at one
time, there were days when I thought my eyes would fall out and roll
across the table.

John Morris,
Graduate English,
University of Alberta.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 6 March 1990
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: etexts not the same

Michael Hart, in suggesting that repositories of e-texts will soon
replace conventional libraries, has raised the question of what experts
in computer-mediated communication call the "substitution mentality".
This rests on the notion that a new technology can simply replace an
older one, bringing about improvements of a purely quantitative nature
without affecting in any substantive way the context in which that
technology is applied. I am beginning to think that McLuhan was wise to
formulate the essential interdependence of form and content in that
outrageous sentence, "The medium is the message", since we seem to be so
thick on this point.

Of course we tend at first to see the new in terms of the old, but
understanding begins with the uneasy feeling that the old model simply
doesn't fit the new circumstance very well. Folks of a particularly
stubborn bent may want to argue that the parts which don't fit are
insignificant, but others will see the possibility for an entirely new
paradigm. I would certainly like to know of a study in the history of
technology that deals with the cultural assimilation of new things.
Kuhn's notion of scientific revolutions is related, I suppose.

I think we should take the title of the next ALLC/ICCH conference,
"The New Medium", quite seriously and try to understand what an adequate
paradigm for it might be, instead of wondering how soon we'll be able to
curl up in bed with a good computer instead of a good book. One vital
question for us professionally is whether computing in the humanities
itself offers anything substantially new. Can we get to an answer by
continuing to think of computing as a fast and accurate servant of the
old ways?

Certainly, to take another example, we will not understand e-mail as
long as we keep thinking of it either in terms of print or of speech. As
a new medium it behaves according to new rules and has certain inherent
tendencies that need to be taken into account. A considerable body of
work has been done by the social scientists to delineate its behavioural
characteristics. One interesting conclusion from this work is that
computer-mediated communication is profoundly rhetorical. It tends,
because of the absence of "social context cues", to depend on language
alone, so that literacy is primary, and those who have a facility with
language become the most influential. This conclusion would seem to make
e-mail the proper preserve of the humanists, indeed of Humanist.


Yours, Willard McCarty

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------31----
Date: Wed, 7 Mar 90 05:45:00 EST
From: TRACY LOGAN <LOGANT@lafayett>
Subject: success story, following a header

>Yes, I like success stories. Certain people still don't understand
>that this sort of thing actually works.

I promised two sentences, but couldn't get it quite as tight as
your two above! Edit if it serves the cause
(PS: I hope your relief turns up before you get
desperate!) -tracy

A query of mine appeared on February 27 (Vol. 3, No. 1111):
>One of our users seeks leads on translations of Mozart's operas.
>Most libretti are too "poetic" and not literal enough for her needs.

By the 29th, I had three replies, from Princeton, Washington
State, and Appalachian State. They were varied and ingenious.
A fourth reply came from a music librarian who saw the request on
"the Music Library listserv" -- some kind Humanist forwarded it, I guess!

My client was delighted, and so was I. -- Tracy