Re: What is this list FOR?

Fri, 29 Apr 1994 02:21:28 -0400

>Well, I have been posting to this list on and off for more than two
>years I think. I have been reading a lot of speculative journalism about
>the way that electronic communication is transforming human relations.
>But what I see is that we are busy assimilating this new form of
>communication into existing social relationships and institutionalized

And also creating some new ones. (Nexus-Gaia, for example, a case of
"homesteading" on the electronic frontier...) Have you seen Howard
Rheingold's _Virtual Communities_? It's techno-utopian, but still offers
some interesting insights into how these communities may have some new,
unexpected features...

>Contrary to what the techno-utopians say, we want to know WHO WE

In the future, the question "What" will also be important too. "Who" we are
talking to may be an AI.

>Giiving our bio sketches to the list is a way of making it seem like we
>are all sitting around the electronic campfire. But, you know, it is not
>like that at all.

Yah, my screen gives off lots of ELF waves, but nothing in the infrared
range. It doesn't feel the least bit warm.

>I posted a message here a couple of weeks ago about
>clear writing, citing Richard Jenkins' superb book on Bourdieu. Lo and
>behold, I got an email message from the man thanking me - someone on the
>list forwarded my comment to him, through another colleague. Last year I
>posted a humorous satire of an academic journal, and a month later it
>was published in a column in the Chronicle of higher Ed.

Hmm... now were you _told_ that the Chronicle was taking something of yours
from the list, or did you just find this out by accident?
Have they appropriated anything by me? (I hope so! Just as long as
they get the name right - S-E-E-K-E-R-1...)

>Every now and
>then I hear from long-lost friends and colleagues, who saw my name on a
>post and decided to reestablish contact (my deep apologies to any that I
>have neglected to return messages from!).

This just happened to me recently. I was rather taken aback.

>This is not a campfire.

I agree! No S'mores or ghost stories! But wow, you should see some of those
leaping flames!

>Institutional economists have a term for the time and effort that it
>takes to get and transmit information - it is a "transaction cost."

My brother's an economist, and he tells this to my family all the time. If
they want stock market tips, first he tells them it's a random walk, then
he says, "Buy low, Sell high," and then reminds them of the transaction
costs for anything better than that...

>transaction costs, argues Douglass North (1993 Nobel Prize winner), are
>one of the basic reasons for the kinds of social groups we have. High
>transaction costs make it reasonable, often, to depend on others instead
>of doing things ourselves (I do great violence by oversimplifying). But
>here we have a form of communication with VERY low costs. I am willing
>to sit down and write email when I would be loathe to write a letter or
>even make a phone call!

And think of how much time it takes to write and then photocopy that letter
500 times! Boy, aren't mailing lists great?

>Who KNOWS what kinds of social effects this will

Lots of unexpected ones. As you increase the number of connections and
feedback loops in a system, it becomes more iterative and nonlinear...

>I see some levelling (people with different status positions in
>the discipline exchanging information), but also persistence of a lot
>of divisions and hierarchy.

One way of combatting those divisions is to challenge the practice of
signifying one's place in that hierarchy through the signature file...

>Commoditization creeping in (did you hear
>about the guy who posted a zillion advertisements over the net last
>week? A lawyer soliciting business!).

It will be harder and harder to prevent commercialization of the Internet.
Indeed, it's basically begun, with the inauguration of CommerceNet...

>And so many mixed expectations and
>sociolinguistic frames! Some people find the public exposure
>terrifying. Others become exhibitionistic (perhaps self included),
>abusive, unrestrained, effusive. Foss has found his speakers' corner.
>For some it's a library and a board of consultants.

Some of us look on it as all of the above.

>This is exciting
>stuff. Anthro-l has become a part of my daily conversation, something I
>look forward to checking.

Me too. Hopelessly addicted.

>I miss it when I am in the field
>(unfortunately I am working on north americans this summer, so my field
>is right here).
>I am still waiting for some form of emergent function to appear here

500+ people from all four (five, I guess, if you count applied as separate)
subfields with widely different interests and backgrounds, and you want
emergent functions to emerge? Each constantly fluctuating with the amount
of time and attention they can give to the list, coming and going at times?

Well, anything can happen...

>I have been hoping that the kinds of collaboration that appear
>from time to time would build. Instead conversations come and go, and
>when people help each other it is open, generalized reciprocity that
>does not lead to any intensified social ties.

The net suspends geography; it doesn't negate it. When we have real-time,
full-motion and audio teleconferencing, you'll see real collaboration...
I mean, people can send back and forth their documents, but to work
collectively on a problem without face-to-face contact is something most
organizations still haven't gotten around to.. that's why most still have
annual (or more frequent) meetings of their members...

>I sense that there is some
>potential here for us, as an electronic community, to take on a
>worthwhile project which will have some real effect on the world.

Think globally, act locally. I'm working to build the Electronic Community
in Gainesville by helping (along with other members of Re:WIRED) the new
Alachua County FreeNet project...

>Frankly, every day I find myself tugged towards my committments to real
>political, economic and social problems; I want to give more of my time
>and effort to local environmental issues for example, and I am involved
>with several groups in Belize, my second home, raising money for high
>school kids, and getting a community development project off the ground.
>I need to give more time to my students too.

Good for you.

>I guess the upshot of all this is that I am wavering about where this
>list is going, and my own committment of time to it (though clearly not
>to many other internet resources). I would like to hear other people on
>the list on this - are others beginning to feel this way?

Anthro-L means enough to me that not even the roaringest of flames could
drive me off... after all, as I told somebody else, I've got an asbestos
suit... Everybody will have their complaints. Some may feel (like me) that
the list is not experimental and avant-garde enough. Others may find the
conversation too abstract and theoretical and not dealing enough with
day-to-day, applied problems. Yet others may think gender is not talked
about enough. Some may find it too informal; others too formal.
My feeling is that people will always somehow find the list deficient
in some way. As I see it, the response is not to leave, or castigate people
for not talking about the things you want to see/hear; it is to post on
that topic and turn people toward discussing it, even if you have to do it
several times and "bend their ears" a little... from my point of view, I
hardly *ever* see anything here I consider irrelevant. It's all
interesting, but obviously I can't reply to everything - though I try!

>Are there
>possible uses for this forum beyond sending each other references and
>engaging each other in conversation, making announcements from time to
>time? Inquiring minds want to know!

There have been some attempts to move beyond the boundaries of this
institutional space... I thought CyberAnthropology was an attempt to do so,
but then I was told to take it somewhere else!
What about people telling about their field experiences? Sharing
warnings/insights/hints for those of us who have not yet gone out to the
field? What should we do? Avoid? Say? Not say? I find that things like the
"culture shock" of returning from the field, as well as dilemmas of what to
do in the field when confronted with the need to intervene, are not talked
about sufficiently in anthropology. It's sort of left to the first-time
fieldworker to sort these things out on their own.

>Rick Wilk
>Indiana Anthropology
>PS Is there anyone else out there who is not mourning Tricky Dick?
>He had the DC cops beat the hell out of me in 1972, and I never got to
>beat him back.

Rick, I strongly recommend the book _The Secret Ascension_ by Michael
Bishop (subtitled _Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas._) Suffice to say that
involves a parallel universe where Nixon is in his fourth term as
president, and has basically become dictator-for-life (hence he is called
King Richard...)

It's very funny. And a good read, esp. for a PKD fan like myself.

Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
CyberAnthropologist, TechnoCulturalist, Guerilla Ontologist, Chaotician
Matrix Master Control Node #3, Gainesville, Fl.
"I slept with Faith & found a corpse in my arms upon awakening/ I drank and
danced all night with Doubt and found her a virgin in the morning." --