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COMMUNET  January 1994, Week 1

COMMUNET January 1994, Week 1

Subject:

From:

Sam Sternberg <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Communet: Community and Civic Network Discussion List

Date:

Mon, 3 Jan 1994 20:14:09 EST

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (104 lines)

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
Friday, 31 December 1993
Op-Ed page (B7)
Perspective on Communications:
"The Colossal Hold of E-Mail"
 
by Brian Stonehill
 
 Future historians of culture will surely regard 1993 as the Year of
E-mail.  Nothing has so radically changed the way that millions of ordinary
people can communicate with each other since the telephone first entered the
home.  Electronic mail enables us to type and receive messages at any
computer
screen, and thanks to the Internet and other smaller networks, have the
message
show up instantaneously on the screen (or in the electronic mailbox) of our
correspondents, wherever they are in the world.
 That's the big picture.  And now, here are the Top Ten features of
E-mail -- the things that make it revolutionary.
 *No. 10*: Its colossal holding power.  People will gladly spend hours
each day writing and reading at their screens.  They write to their friends
and
relatives, they write to people they've never met.  E-mail usage is presently
growing at over 300,000% a year.  In San Francisco, a dozen coffeehouses
offer
access to computer networks at the rate of 25 cents for four minutes.  Every
day, people reportedly spend $10 in quarters, not playing sterile games but
communicating with new friends.
 *No. 9*: It is not generation-specific.  E-mail is not a gadget that
appeals just to the young.  People of all ages are logging on by the
millions,
and if they're not members of institutions that subscribe to the Internet,
they
are subscribing (for less than the cost of cable TV) to commercial services
like CompuServe and America Online on their own.
 *No. 8*: It is an ecological dream.  E-mail consumes no paper, kills no
trees, burns no gasoline in a mailman's truck.  In fact, e-mail represents
the
culmination of the progressive de-materialization of culture.  At first, we
painted our messages on the immovable stone walls of our caves.  Then, in a
great leap forward, we learned to engrave on heavy clay tablets.  Centuries
later, paper and printing made culture hugel, historically portable.  In the
1980s, faxes sped the thing up, but they still consume paper.   E-mail, now,
is
all about spirit moving instantaneously about the globe, inhabiting no matter
whatsoever and using precious little energy.
 *No. 7*: It's the ultimate instance of swords beaten into ploughshares.
The Internet began its existence as DARPA-net, the Defense Department's
research link that enabled signals to be sent to nuclear missile silos around
the country.  Now that death-dealing technology has been given over to
humanists, artists, gossippers, hobbyists, academics, and plain folks
enriching
their lives with witty, trivial, informative, and humane banter.
 *No. 6*:  It's the ideal of democracy.  E-mail doesn't care what you
wear, what you drive, what pen you write with, or whether you speak with an
accent.  As one canine is seen e-mailing to another mutt in a recent "New
Yorker" cartoon, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."  If you're
slow
of speech or talk with a stutter, e-mail leaves that behind.  Cyberspace does
not see physical challenges and is colorblind.  Our new electronic culture is
not about the body, it's about the mind.
 *No. 5*:  The instant you send your message, it's on your
correspondent's desk, not in some stack of envelopes.  People tend to answer
their E-mail immediately, so that business decisions, editorial changes,
travel
plans, career moves all get speeded up and made more efficient by several
orders of magnitude.
 *No. 4*:  Office romances are multiplying.  The reason is simple: You
can be locked in an intimate E-mail conversation with someone across the room
or across the country, and it looks to everyone else like you are innocently
working.
 *No. 3*:  E-mail lets you meet strangers whose interests are yours, yet
it protects you from being bored by them.  Thanks to bulletin boards, you can
tap into ongoing conversations that are about such specific topics as last
night's episode of "Northern Exposure" or the culture of Pakistan or what's
happening on laserdisc orthe latest news release from the White House.
 It's just like walking into a room where everyone is talking about the
very thing that you're most interested in -- and you can walk in or out any
time.  Stay if you're learning something useful, leave if you're not.  This
is
the opposite of sterile, isolated video games. It's social, it's
curiosity-driven, and full of information.
 *No. 2*:  E-mail is connecting the planet into the global village
Marshall McLuhan promised us thirty years ago. We can follow events in
Sarajevo
more closely on the Internet than in the papers or on TV.  I hear from people
in Singapore and Denmark more often and more interestingly than from people
who
live down the street.  The world is becoming more  like a living critter with
a
working nervous system -- not because we're all watching the same pictures on
some global TV network, but because each of us, by the millions, is getting
connected to something that speaks to our individual interests and
curiosities.
 And the *No. 1* feature of E-mail (drum roll, please) is that,
futuristic as it sounds, it's happening right now.  For millions of users
here
and abroad, we're not talking pie in the sky any more -- we're talking pie
a la modem.
 
Brian Stonehill, who directs the Media Studies program at Pomona College, is
reachable on the Internet at:
[log in to unmask]

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