[Air-l] e-mail destroying friendships?

Charles Ess cmess at lib.drury.edu
Mon Apr 21 13:15:47 PDT 2003


Again, my thanks to Steve and Nancy for helping me to sharpen my
(increasingly evanescent) question (smile)...

I'd be very sorry indeed if my question suggested a privileging of one
communication context over another, or a related nostalgia for one form or
another.  I'd also be sorry to suggest any form of technological determinism
(though this wasn't your primary point, I realize).

FWIW: I couldn't agree more with the point, that it is best to proceed by
way of centering
> relationships in the human, and to put the onus on humans as actors
> who create, destroy or repair relationships, making choices from
> numerous means of communicating one with the other.

But this still leaves me (I think) with my question - helped along very
nicely by Holly Kruse's recent post (thank you!).
Let's grant that people who use e-mail and forwarding are actors who create,
destroy, and/or repair relationships, and who make choices - with varying
degrees of awareness, I would qualify - about the means they use to
communicate with one another.
Is it possible that

(a) the ease of forwarding e-mail to large numbers of people, including
friends of one's friends who likely hold to a large range of views and
beliefs, perhaps as coupled with
(b) the relative ease of saying something rhetorically powerful (perhaps too
powerful, all things considered) in response to such e-mails as they offend
or contradict - in contrast with the ways in which we may (perhaps because
of greater experience, prudence, familiarity with "the other," etc.)
exercise greater rhetorical / social restraint in other contexts (including
embodied contexts, as these include a range of both verbal and non-verbal
modes of communication),

may issue in

(c) uses of e-mail (rhetorically sharp replies to a whole group, most of
whom are strangers, etc.) that
(d) evoke sharper, more hostile responses in turn than one would otherwsie
expect, based especially on one's experience/relationship with "the Other"
in other contexts, (including embodied contexts, as these include a range of
both verbal and non-verbal modes of communication)?

If this is possible - and it certainly seems so, based on the experiences I
alluded to - then it would seem to be of interest as a potentially important
phenomenon associated with e-mail and its use.
Perhaps research would demonstrate that
(a) this sort of thing in fact doesn't happen very often, and / or
(b) this sort of thing has no statistically significant impact on long-term
friendships, etc.
Indeed, this would be interesting to understand better, so that especially
if there were statistically significant impacts of this sort, humans as
communicative actors could be informed about these and exercise more
informed choice and use of specific communication venues.

Again, I've no idea what the truth of the matter is here.  I was simply
hoping that one or more members of the aoir list might have
(a) some pointers to research already done that would help illuminate these
possibilities, and/or
(b) comments and observations that would likewise help me understand all of
this more fully from an empirical basis.

Again, thanks to Nancy and Steve, as always, for their perspicacious
comments and suggestions.

with eternally burning hope...

Charles Ess
Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.                          Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA            FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
Co-chair, CATaC: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

> From: Steve Jones <sjones at uic.edu>
> Reply-To: air-l at aoir.org
> Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003 06:36:39 -0500
> To: air-l at aoir.org
> Subject: Re: [Air-l] e-mail destroying friendships?
> 
> Who says "venues of CMC" are "decontextualized"? ;-)
> 
> Sheizaf Rafaeli, Quentin (Gad) Jones, Michael Schudson, are among
> those who I found very useful as I thought through some of the issues
> associated with the dualisms we tend toward when it comes to
> face-to-face communication in my Cybersociety 2.0 collection (or to
> put it another way as I pondered the "f2f vs. the world" card). I
> continue to be fascinated by the primacy of f2f in our thinking and
> scholarship, and the privileging of sight it entails and entwines. At
> the same time as we privilege sight, most often by noting that
> without seeing communication is "decontextualized" because we cannot
> see non-verbal expression, in the realm of CMC we are in fact using
> the sense of sight to read. We're just seeing different "stuff." Is
> that a loss? Is it a sign of nostalgia? Is it a real difference? Or
> is it d) all of the above?
> 
> And what does it mean that we talk about "tone of voice," a decidedly
> non-visual matter in human perception, in f2f communication? I need
> not face anyone to hear their tone of voice.
> 
> Along with Nancy I'm dubious about claims regarding particular forms
> of communication as, at least implicitly, "ideal" or even "more
> human" than others (which is not to say that some may not be "more
> mediated" than others). I'd prefer, I suppose, to center
> relationships in the human, and to put the onus on humans as actors
> who create, destroy or repair relationships, making choices from
> numerous means of communicating one with the other.
> 
> Sj





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