[Air-L] My letter to Monica Hesse at the Post (was snide, etc.)

Terri Senft tsenft at gmail.com
Sun Dec 16 23:12:17 PST 2007

Hi folks,

This is a copy of the letter that I emailed to Monica Hesse at the Post.

I sent this about three hours ago, and then posted to the list about
to give people a heads up.  Since the post never showed up, I am
posting again.

Sorry if this winds up going out multiple times but I am now concerned
that people thought this was a safe space to vent, and  I invited her
to join us on the list. Frankly , I think she should see how
frustrated people are, but that's just my opinion.

Here is the letter:


Dear Monica,

Thank you for writing the piece on academics and social software
scholarship. I thought many of your observations about turf wars were
on the money (literally.)

As an academic who writes about LiveJournal, Facebook and YouTube, I
suppose I too could be viewed as someone jockeying for a piece of the
social networking pie. I prefer to see myself as someone deeply
interested in her field. When I am honest though, I have to admit
'interested' is too weak a word—on my good days, I actually believe
social networks can change the way that institutions function, one
person at a time.

Which brings me to why I am writing today.

Your writing style makes you seem approachable, so I  am going to take
a chance and hope you are open to the idea of joining us in a
conversation that is currently taking place online regarding your
article. The venue is the Association of Internet Researchers mailing
list. Everyone you have quoted in your piece has already weighed in,
and I know that would make me curious, if I were in your shoes.

As you rightly intimate in your article, academic study of online
social networking is a subcultural practice that has gone mainstream.
Like all subcultures, it is best understood in the environment in
which it transpires. If I were writing about rave DJ's, I wouldn't
call people to ask about raving. I wouldn't even go to raves
themselves. I would find out where the DJ's go, and see them interact.
Although the analogy doesn't quite hold (our clothes aren't as
interesting), the place where academics gather to discuss social
networking isn't really the pages of the JCMC. It's the AIR-List,
which began because we were all too far flung geographically to get to
the same conferences.

Even though you might get a bit of a ribbing now, I think you'd like
the AIR List, and I believe it would be a great resource for your
future reporting. The AIR conference (the physical one) is renowned
for the fact that it never prints its badges with titles. I am Terri
Senft from the University of East London, UK. I am not "Senior
Lecturer," which means that grad students can and do talk to me on
equal footing. At least during the conference, we are two people
having a beer and talking about whether Twitter is less or more
intrusive than Dodgeball. The AIR-List has always worked the same way.
There are academics from all the disciplines you intimate are at war
with one another, all talking together. There are grad students, there
are activists, there are industry people, and there are reporters.

I'd like to give you a concrete example of how AIR might help you with
future articles. Towards the end of your piece, you intimate that
because social software is so new, long-term analyses of its affects
are non-existent. As someone with a book coming out that links
mid-1990's webcamming communities to sites like YouTube, LiveJournal
and Facebook, I feel the need to selfishly disagree. I know lots of
other people on AIR-L (sociologists, computer scientists, political
theorists, librarians) who can give you other examples of online
social networking that predates the 'hot' sites of today. Historical
work can be, and is being, done, and we'd love for you to hear about

I didn't need your article to tell me that social software has grown
ubiquitous, but I want to thank you for reminding me that the onus is
on me to communicate, as much as it is on you to report news of
research in the field. I thought about writing a letter to the editor
about your piece. I've long considered volunteering to help with
AoIR's press profile (not even sure if we have a press package.) I was
finishing a book and I thought about volunteering to take some of the
weight of danah boyd's shoulders (it cannot be a blast to have to
answer every call from every newspaper about pedophilia scares on

Then I realized I was missing the bit where the medium is the message.

I'm sending you this note through the email address provided by the
Post Online. I'd like you to talk directly with us on AIR-L. I think
it would be great for us to keep a dialogue going, now and in the
future, wherever your next assignment takes you. I would welcome your

To join the AIR List, you just need to go to
http://listserv.aoir.org/listinfo.cgi/air-l-aoir.org and fill in some
email details. I think I can speak for the membership when I say that
I very much hope to see you there.


Theresa M. Senft
Senior Lecturer, Media Studies
University of East London, UK

Dr. Theresa M. Senft
Senior Lecturer, Media Studies
School of Social Sciences, Media and Cultural Studies
University of East London
Docklands Campus
4-6 University Way
London E162RD


More information about the Air-L mailing list