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Re: Politikal Korrektness rears its appearance-challenged head

At 9:24 p.m., 10 November 1995, Joel Spector wrote:

>E-mail is not
>employed with the same level of skill, consideration, and narrative integrity
>that the novelist, essayist, poet or accomplished letterwriter uses. It is by
>its nature reductive and ephemeral. Therefore, what it inspires in us is
>reductive and ephemeral. I think it's unsuited for the transmission of what's
>best in us.

And at  7:26 p.m., 11 November 1995, R. Williams wrote:

>There is a false premise that the form
>determines the content. Is a "printed" poem any more or less than a "written"
>poem, or a poem sent through email? Aren't we mixing apples with oranges,
>confusing TEXT with content?

I suppose I would take a middle way on the subject.

On the one hand, e-mail or any other form of electronic discourse is not so
easily reducible. It is open to a wide panoply of human creativity.
Furthermore, it accretes a considerable amount of substance over time. If
it did not, then why waste time with listservs?

On the other hand, e-mail and electronic texts in general are not entirely
neutral. I say this for four reasons:

1. Physical context makes a difference in conveyance of information. To
read Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in the original 1678-1684 edition is a
vastly different experience from reading it in a paperback reprint, which
again is vastly different from reading it in electronic form. The original
edition forces one to recognize its age and the particular culture out of
which it emerged, entices one to enter the mind of its original audience,
and reminds one of the flow of discourse since. The paperback strips away
much of the historical sense and tempts one to read with a flat pietism.
The electronic text is one further step removed from the text's historical
embodiment, and it attracts manipulation by the reader.

2. The interaction of the creative process with its medium is different
with each medium. When I write with my left hand, I tend to be confessional
and  intimate. When I write with my right hand, I tend to pluck analytical
and synthetic thought out of the  current of ideas that flows through my
mind. When I word process, I tend to be systematic. Each mode in which I
work draws out of me a different set of creative elements.

3. The particular forms, conventions, and capabilities of e-mail make a
difference. I've become more sensitive to this in electronic communication
outside of e-mail. In the philosophy of hypertext, for instance, it is
proposed that style should be subordinate to semantics. Rather than using
italics, one is encouraged to use emphasis, which can display as italics or
bold or caps or something else, depending on how the browser is set. But as
an inveterate experimenter with bibliographic style,  italics as such
matter to me.  In other words, display matters to communication.

4. E-mail is both resuscitating old forms of correspondence and enabling
new forms of correspondence. The short reply note so habitual in the 19th
century is  back in vogue. But now, correspondence is typically
characterized by extensive quotation from previous messages followed by
direct responses, often sentence by sentence responses, and elaborate
signatures. Nowadays we have listservs and news groups. And nowadays
written communication need no longer conform to intervals measured in days.
E-mail as it has developed over the last decade or two is very much a
product of its time.

-- Norman E. Anderson

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