blast from the past

here’s an article describing how our electronic discussion list, the original “Netdynam”, looked to one of our members in its first year. the article was published in a newspaper at that time, and has recently resurfaced – and given us all a walk down memory lane… if you weren’t a member of this list, much of the same probably applied to any other mailing list at that time….

Dateline: February 4th, 1997

I decided to take the Great Leap Forward onto the Internet without
having a clue what that meant. A year ago I upgraded my trusty little
home word-processor to one with an internal fax-modem. At first, I was
disturbed by the interactivity of my new machine – it spoke back to me
in all sorts of ways, intruding upon what previously had been my
silent reverie in front of the screen. Yet when I finally managed to
get all the software programs to work and up popped an email from a
friend in Melbourne, I was startled and delighted. My computer was no
longer a static receptacle. Something was happenning in there.

I stumbled across a reference to a cyber-philosophy email list and
sent off a ‘subscribe’ command. The next day there were twenty posts
in my email In Tray, snatches from the middle of a lively, ongoing
conversation. I read them with fascination. The next day, there were
more. My computer seemed to be feeding me with ideas.

After ‘eavesdropping’ for a week, I took the plunge and sent a post to
the list. I was greeted and welcomed by the same cast of characters I
had been listening to. It felt like a soap opera, only I could step
right in and have an impact on the script. I felt ridiculously
excited, intoxicated with the possibilities of communication which
leapt out of my screen.

I quickly discovered there was a name for people like me: ‘newbie’.
And a whole new set of jargon and netiquette to get my head around, as
I browsed across a range of lists. Just like a television soap opera,
there were immediately recognisable characters in every list – the
attention seeker, the melodramatist, the pugilist, the harmoniser, the
challenger. List conversation went through its intrigues, climaxes and
denouements. On the happiest lists, participants were thrilled to have
found each other and often exclaimed at how the list had changed their

It changed mine. Procrastination was never so much fun…”This
assignment’s so dull, I’ll just dial-up and check my email, see if
those two bozos are still arguing….” There were all sorts of new
decisions to make, like should I save every post which mentions me by
name; all sorts of new experiences, like gossiping backchannel about a
‘stranger’ in New York with another ‘stranger’ who lives in Indiana.

It was clear that certain behavioural lessons had already been drawn
in the relatively short history of cyber-relating. Most lists send new
subscribers a Welcome message which sets out the list dos and don’ts:
writing in CAPS, otherwise known as shouting, is considered the height
of rudeness. Quoting the whole of someone else’s message and merely
adding ‘Me too’ at the end is also seen as very bad form. As is having
a wacky signature drawing which takes up half the screen.

Central to nearly every Welcome message is the cardinal list
commandment, ‘You Shall Not Flame’. ‘To flame’ is to attack, to sneer,
heap vitriol, sarcasm and hostility upon another poster. ‘A flame war’
involves multiple participants. Flamers never give the other person
the benefit of the doubt. Many Welcome messages point out that the
absence of non-verbal cues – smiles, raised eyebrows – can easily lead
to crossed wires in a text-only medium. Email is projection hell.

Flaming is mentioned so often in e-world that you’d think you were
travelling over scorched earth. I’ve seen plenty of trenchant
disagreement and good solid volleying. Nothing remotely resembling
the heat of a flame war – whatever I imagined that to be.

Mostly I was impressed by the civility of my fellow posters.
Especially considering they were nearly all Americans. That was an
initial surprise, as I had rather naively fallen for the idea of
Internet as global village. Wrong. Unless you join an email list for
English soccer fans, odds are that nearly everyone else on any list
you join will be American. Internet culture is American: list traffic
comes to a standstill for Thanksgiving. It also slows down in the
Australian afternoon, when those Yanks are tucked up in bed.

This American facade can lull non-Americans into a false sense of
privacy, as though the Internet is a personal playground remote from
everyday reality. For a time I belonged to a women’s computer list,
which seemed to be replete with the usual Californians, Oregonians
etc. So I was mildly surprised when another Sydneysider suddennly
chimed in in reply to a technical question. Even more surprised when
she told me she recognised my name from some local journalism. Not
long afterwards, I saw a post on the same list from a woman whose name
I in turn recognised. Muted alarm bells went off in my head. It’s a
small world after all and you never know who might be reading your
words on a list.

Lurkers are reading them, that’s who. Anyone can subscribe to a list
but that doesn’t mean they have to participate. There can be dozens if
not hundreds of people out there following the conversation but never
revealing their prescence. Fertile grounds for paranoia, or at least
heightened self-consciousness, you’d think. Yet it doesn’t seem to
stop some people from gushing about their rebirthing experience in
their very first post. That’s even when the list is dedicated to the
intricacies of a software application.

Occasionally someone de-lurks. That’s different from simply
introducing yourself. After all, only someone who has been lurking for
an indeterminate amount of time can be said to de-lurk. Sometimes
de-lurkers do a hit and run, lambasting the list for being
irrelevant/boring/aggravating before disappearing back into lurkdom.
My cyber-philosophy list has many more lurkers than active posters. I
know this because I finally worked out the listserver command which
tells me the names and email addresses of every subscriber. Most are
unfamiliar to me, even after a year of active participation.

Yes, I’m no longer a newbie. In fact, a year in email makes me an old
hand, almost a Net Veteran. I’ve met two fellow listmates who were
passing through Sydney – the world really is shrinking. I celebrated
the first anniversary of my favourite list by doing an IRC session
with the group – is this the definition of mixed media? I’ve learnt a
lot. Most of all, I’ve learnt a lot about boundaries – how to reach
out and connect with people without losing yourself in the process.
Now, I just have to check my email…..

A Room of One’s Own

Of all the phenomena ‘afforded,’ as-it-were, the set that interests me most is how illusions are afforded. There are easy, maybe facile, metaphors come to mind. I can split the focus and wonder about how those illusions may be said to be typically afforded and then move into a more phenomenological frame and wonder what a given typical illusion feels like for the subject. So: when this is pointed out or otherwise amplified for the subject, what does this then evoke in the subject?

I’ll use myself as such a subject. If I ask myself what are the the different types of illusions of privacy afforded differently by email discussion list, and, by group blog, the first images that are aroused differentiate the illusory walled living room of the cozy email list, and, the private hushed conversation conducted in the midst of the uncaring audience.

Let’s leap. This example leads–for me–to the following sense: as a matter of personal preference, I would rather contribute an instance of expression on this blog, have it ignored, yet have it ignored for all the world to see then do the same on an email list and have it echo off the walls. Better the ‘thud’ than the reverberation.

There would be reasons for this.

A better term, coming from wanting to develop a better term, for reflexive affordances is, intraspersonal affordances. It seems to me, even if novel, what I’m trying to locate is the introspective response to the environment. Maybe it’s a sort of bridge or liminal aspect of reflection upon what is afforded. And, what is afforded by the uncertain flux of structure and the interpersonal.

The echoing room refers both to the seeming boundedness of the structure of the list, and, the lack of human reception.

I could run with the room metaphor. To do so is to wonder about what kind of room is a blog. Now my original evoked image shifts. It’s not like creating for all the world to see. All the world can’t fit into its room. It’s a bigger room, and, it’s a bigger illusion of roominess.

Various modalities, and their affordances, look different from one another. For example, Facebook, is like having to occupy a room someone else designed, and, along with this comes lots of constraining rules. Along this same line of thought, as you have noted, the blog modality seems like this too when someone else is busily overhauling the room with their design and with their rules, or some of them.

Obviously this is in high contrast with the austere structure of an email list. With a list, the tools with which one can ‘mark their territory’ are few. But, at the same time, the effects one can create are substantial. In terms of illusion, it would then be the case that a participant might think: “Ahh, this is what is imagined about me.”

Naked text provides for some cruel austerities. Contrast this with the different ways multi-media affords different kinds of mediation. For example, to easily see the artistic product of the photographer is better than even to hop on a text link dangling at the bottom of a post.

Going further, the sensemaking concerned with another person’s embodiment, is enriched via the multi-sensory potential. (Hmmm, methinks the intrapersonal affordances are embodied affordances.) This, then, comes to one of the first winds of the netdynam email list gyre, when psych type and psycho type alike pondered the absence of the body.

Still, I’m mindful of the necessary promotion of illusion. It is possible that illusion is preferable to realism.

I have a favorite example of this. There are immensely popular blogs where a single post evokes tens, hundreds, even thousands of comments. Probably, in a structural sense, a comment threads allows a given comment to ripple downward through successive comments up to the point the comment–in result–dissipates its energy. There, no doubt, are affordances having to do with the dissipative propensities in a modal system. The existence of long comment threads on blogs begs lots of questions. To suggest one answer to an unspecified question: if you read a long comment thread top to bottom, the temporal slices can sometimes be identified because some threads demarcate their own waxing and waning and waxing.

What would a commenter be thinking to lose one’s self in such a trailing crowd?
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blog affordances anyone?

1. Blog versus email list discussion

The affordances of the blog medium render discussions conducted there different, both in content and expression, from those previously conducted by the same people via a mailing list.
Reference to content and expression planes is meant to distinguish the meanings made possible by any text, and so we can say that while the expression plane refers to the materiality through which meanings are made (e.g. sound and articulation, movement, gestures, graphology and letters, etc), the content plane refers to meanings derived from the discourse made possible through these media.

In other words, BOTH the formal features of the posts and their responses  – what are labelled ‘comments’ in a blog environment –  are different in every respect when comparing the email-list versus the blog environment: formatting, colour, dispersion on the page, linking/nesting, inclusion of graphics AND  the content of the responses and posts are different. At the same time, what we say and how we say it are affected by our notions of ‘audience’ on the blog. The email list in the case of Netdynam was available by subscription and only subscribers are privy to the posts. The subscription list was small and the active posters became well known to each other. In the case of the blog on the other hand, it is not easily clear who is reading the posts since the web-log is public.

Audience potential appears to be the biggest difference affecting interaction on the blog – as contrasted with the experience of interacting on a mailing list. The technological contraints and enablements notwithstanding, the net effect of the extra appurtances is that blog-members now have open boundaries – or perhaps semi-permeable boundaries if the levels of administration and moderation are taken into account – and this does not make former members of a small list feel as ‘secure’ when faced with an open audience. For example, the projected audience affects how a writer addresses the content – this paper was originally written to fellow list-members and instead of third person referents, general nouns, and past tense, I used second person referents, and habitual or present (in the past) tense, i.e. whereas in the paragraph to follow I originally wrote “we have been spending many years defining boundaries…”, for general consumption, I now write something different…

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trip to vaasa

We made a short trip to Vaasa on the west coast of Finland earlier this year. I haven’t been able to write it up and post it till now. It was an annual conference run by the language department at the university there, and P had been invited to give a plenary on journalistic voice, as he calls it. I also made a presentation—using texts from ND.

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outlining posting norms

first an outline of the ‘typical’ or norm-al moves or stages in a post to the list. as generalisation, it pretty well covers all bases. as abstraction, however, there will be exceptions of course.

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Conceptualizing Group Cohesion

In response to a current thread running on the mailing list regarding individual and group identity, one member offers this comment:

“Feel for” sounds to me like “internal representation.” One model of groups is that they exist to the extent that members have such internal representations of each other. (We might consider this “extent” variable to be “cohesion” or something else, like “density.” This is not yet thoroughly conceptualized in the literature.)

For several months now I have been considering the characteristics, properties and implications of Bose-Einstein condensate behavior as they relate to Dualism (as it is understood in the philosophy of science) and Nondualism in social construction.

The presentation made by Daniel Kleppner, co-director of the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms for the PBS television Nova show Absolute Zero explains:

(slider indicates index of presentation)

(slider indicates index of presentation)

what intrigued me were two observations he made, First, his statement,

There’s nothing else like that in physics and certainly not in human experience.

My inquiry concerns whether this statement regarding human experience is true, whether this phenomenon has simply not been adequately described, and whether this description of behavior informs the field of social construction.

And second, his statement.

in the Bose condensate, I’m everywhere at once. I’ve lost my identity. I don’t know who I am anymore.

echoes the concerns of research into “anomie” taking place at the Digital Ethnography Working Group, and further by graduate student Kevin Champion.

“So just to think about this causes me wonder and confusion.”

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