3.1163 electronic communication, cont. (73)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Sun, 11 Mar 90 22:32:09 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1163. Sunday, 11 Mar 1990.

(1) Date: 10 March 1990, 12:00:30 EDT (16 lines)
Subject: artefacts vs. tools, books and electronic texts

(2) Date: Sat, 10 Mar 90 10:15:56 PST (39 lines)
Subject: Sociolingists look at email

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 10 March 1990, 12:00:30 EDT
Subject: artefacts vs. tools, books and electronic texts

Some books are holy, some are precious, some are beautiful--they are not
dead things but represent the spirits of authors, editors, compositors,
publishers, former readers. Enemies of civilization like Hitler burned
them, but most humanists spend their lives trying to preserve and value
and nurture them, without making a fetish out of them. Electronic texts
are still tools rather than artefacts. They may help preserve the text
of the 1667 first edition of *Paradise Lost* but they do not replace the
precious book. Until they reach paper, electronic texts are just little
doo-dahs of data that can be erased by a nearby magnet. Roy Flannagan
(I intend no disrespect for a medium that is ideal for the quick
transmission of ideas or the even quicker searching or seeking meaning
from huge amounts of data.)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------46----
Date: Sat, 10 Mar 90 10:15:56 PST
Subject: Sociolingists look at email

If I understand him correctly, Niko Besnier (Department of
Anthropology, Yale University) suggests that we regard email as
nothing essentially new in society. Let's put aside, he suggests,
the McLuhanist notion that something radically different is
happening with the installation of electronic technology.
Instead, he urges us to regard email as more material for
viewing the perennial class-struggle for social power. Class
consciousness is just breaking out in another territory, he seems
to be suggesting. Electronics adds nothing radically new to the
"processes of power and competition for symbolic capital." (Is
this the digital interpretation of _Das Kapital_?) We should
not judge electronic communication by the standard of
traditional literacy because that bookish standard is a "middle
class-dominated" form of communication.

Does Niko expect us to regard sociolinguistic anthropology as
the true voice of the workers' party (at Yale)? Is he suggesting
that his discipline brings the real interests of the oppressed and
the less literate into scholarship? Does sociolinguistic
anthropology itself produce middle-class essays for the journals
in order to assert, ever so tolerantly, the literary "equality" of
comic books and pulp fiction?

Somehow, at this moment in history, the notions of a Marxist
analysis of electronics rings terribly hollow. Conversely, I find
resonance in the notion that something radically new is indeed
afoot, that even the traditional political structures with their
predictable sociological analysts had better watch out.
Electronics is changing things rapidly, including governments
and ideological practices. At least that's my feeling.

Mike H.