Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997 16:16:00 -0500
From: "Jeutonne P. Brewer" jpbrewer[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]HAMLET.UNCG.EDU
Subject: Re: Re: At Their Web Site
On Tue, 2 Dec 1997, Denis Anson wrote:
I would hesitate to consider email as producing a renaissance in writing
for two reasons: first, few of us save our email for posterity. It is a
very ephemeral communication, with only slightly more permanence than a
phone call. Second, because we know that it is an ephemeral format, we
tend not to dwell over it. The writers of the past would ponder over which
words best conveyed their intended meaning, and would strive for impact in
their words. Modern email is much more nearly flow of consciousness
writing, with little thought behind it.
The claims that you make about email are also true of letters. They are
ephemeral in the sense that most people don't save all the letterss they
receive. Not all letter writers pondered over which words best convey
a meaning. Published collections of letters represent a small
percentage of letters written in the past. It would be possible to
collect a small, select number of email messages and present for
them the claims that you make about letters from the past.
I also disagree with some of your basic assumptions about email.
Clearly, email has an element of immediacy that "snail mail" letters
will never have. However, the writer can choose to spend as much
time as he or she wishes on a email messate--or a letter. Email can
have as much permanence as the receiver (and sender) wishes. It
can be stored; it can be printed.
After having analyzed the writing in 3 class computer conferences
(about 120,000 words), I can--and have--claimed (with co-author Boyd
Davis) that the writers used complex techniques to present their
ideas and arguments in electronic form. They drew on both their
knowledge of speaking and writing conventions in their messages.
Phone messages are oral; email is written. They are different modes
of communication. Of course, you can make phone messages part of your
permanent archive by recording phone conversations.
All of these sources of language use are important to the study
of language structure and use.
Will I save this message? I haven't decided yet.