Re: What is this list FOR?

Sun, 1 May 1994 17:48:56 EDT

On Mon, 25 Apr 1994 10:48:27 -0600 wilkr said:

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

>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. I posted a message here a couple of weeks ago about

As I mentioned over in the "re: anonymity" thread, I started to
reply to Rich's post, but accidentally deleted it and never got back
to it. Now that the subject seems to be evolving, I've decided to
come back to it.
First off, I do think that the Anthro-L populace's need to know
who they're talking to (to the extent of trading biographies) is
unusual among networked groups. Most such groups are content to work
from cues given _in posts_, i.e. "the identity constructed as you go"
that I discuss in my earlier post. Anybody wanting details of that
theory should go read that post.
Now what I'm wondering about here is *why* is Anthro-L different
from UseNet, FidoNet, and the more recreational listservs. The only
place (so far) where I've seen "tell me about yourself" said to such
effect has been in local BBS systems (you know, PCs hooked up to
modems and hidden in the back of someone's house), specifically in the
local message bases. The only parallel I can see between our beloved
Anthro-L and those local BBS systems in a slightly stronger shared
identity among participants of each listserv/message base. That is,
more overlap in each individual's self-concept.
To state this simply: If anybody on Anthro-L was asked for a
short biography (whether or not it's asked for by Anthro-L or a
stranger on the street), I figure 90% of would include some variation
on "I'm an anthropologist", "I'm an anthropology student", or "I
majored in anthropology". Having such a significant part of our
biography overlap _instantly_ creates a stronger feeling of community
than over on the recreational areas of UseNet (say,
dedicated to the game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), where a
hobby/interest might not be significant portion of the individual's
Going back to those local BBS systems, the shared trait would seem
to be simply that everyone in the local message base is a local.
Geographic proximity seems to carry a fair amount of shared experience
with it (obviously), which leads to an almost predictable set of
reoccuring threads in local message bases. "What's wrong with the
Cleveland Browns" and "What's happening at Kent State now?" seem to
pop up a lot on BBS systems around Kent, Ohio.
I hope I've said enough for everyone to pick apart. On to
some smaller points in Rich's post.

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

That sounds nice, but it leads me to believe you've never seen
the proverbial "please help me with my homework" posts or the Survey
Out Of The Blue posts that drive people on UseNet nuts. A lot of
undergrads seem to try using UseNet (although I've seen it in
FidoNet's College echo a lot, too) as an easy way out for research.
(It gets rather annoying after a while.) Almost as if the lower
transactional cost was inspiring the slackers to try to depend on
other's expertise _more_. From the academic perspective, not good.
Not good at all.

>even make a phone call! Who KNOWS what kinds of social effects this will
>have. I see some levelling (people with different status positions in
>the discipline exchanging information), but also persistence of a lot
>of divisions and hierarchy. Commoditization creeping in (did you hear
>about the guy who posted a zillion advertisements over the net last
>week? A lawyer soliciting business!). And so many mixed expectations and

Yeah, I saw that. SEVENTEEN TIMES (I'm subscribed to 18 UseNet
groups. Oddly enough, the only one he missed was alt.grad.skool.sux)
I have some pet theories as to why UseNet at large is so upset by
Canter & Siegal, but this post it getting long enough.) Maybe we can
take it to a different thread.

>I am still waiting for some form of emergent function to appear here
>though. 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. I sense that there is some

I think these groups tend to find their own purpose, often one
far from the original intent of a group's creator. What comes to
mind is the debate (on UseNet's alt.config and alt.dads-rights)
about the groups alt.dads-rights, which was intended to discuss the
father's perspective in parental custody decisions. Somehow, it
became a debating ground for the "male choice" issue in abortion,
which apparently upset the creators of the group. They then changed
the group to a moderated group, and refuse to allow discussions of
abortion. I should note that moderating a UseNet group (especially an
alt group) after the fact of creation is always a contentious issue
(many seeing it as the restriction of a previously unrestricted
forum), and suggests that trying to find or create a purpose for a
group that's already got (or not got) one isn't going to work. As
much as the generalist in me winces for writing it, if you want
purpose, you'll probably have to create a specialized group for it.

>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? 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!

Personally, I rather appreciate the nondirection of Anthro-L.
Otherwise I'd have to go to the Tavern with some other grad students
for this kind of freeflow discussion, and even that's difficult to
keep going after the fourth beer.

Michael Bauser (mbauser@kentvm.bitnet or
Dept. of Anthropology, Kent State University, Kent OH 44242, USA