Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Essay 2: E-mail Lists

For our second essay, we were instructed to observe a pre-World Wide Web social medium. Social mediums such as IRC, MUDs/MOOs, email lists, or Usenet, allows people to communicate with one another about various topics of interest. These groups of people may be complete strangers, or it may even be composed of a group of friends or acquaintances.

The social media I chose to observe was an e-mail list from Yahoo. As mentioned in the reading by Kollock and Smith, e-mail lists can be compared to a Bulletin Board System (BBS). It allows users to write posts which will then be e-mailed to each of the members in the group. The group members then have the option of reading the message and posting up a reply to that message, which will then be sent out to every member in the group as well. The name of the group I observed was called “Relationship-Talk: Expert Advice on Love & Dating.” From reading the title, I felt that there would be a wide range of people participating in this group, and I got as many as 81 messages in one day! This proved to me that this e-mail group was very active.

When communicating on the internet, gender becomes a big issue. Judging from the name of this group, I was expecting the group members to be mostly females, rather than males. This is simply due to the fact that females are stereotyped to be more about the “love” thing while males prefer not to talk about it, and would much rather deal with it in their own way. However, much to my surprise, there were just as many males as there were females. As mentioned in one of the readings as well as in class, there are often many cases where one gender may be impersonating the opposite gender, and vice versa. However, I did not feel as if this was a big issue in this group. Nonetheless, I felt that there really was no need for one gender to try to impersonate the other gender. Often times it was clear to me from just by the user name whether or not the writer was a male or a female. However, there were the occasional ambiguous usernames. If this was the case, the content that the user wrote about hinted out clues to what their gender was. Some examples of these context clues would be things like “I love this man so much….,” “My girlfriend & I have been together for awhile..,” and so on. The hard part about figuring out the gender of the writer was when a user replied to a message. Unless the user was comparing the situation to his/her own, it was often hard to figure out if the writer was a male or a female. The most recent observation of this case was when a woman had written about not spending enough time with her boyfriend. She had been complaining that they only spend time twice a week. As a reply, one user posted “Twice a week? That’s longer than what I get, count your blessings.”

Kollock & Smith discuss topics such as managing virtual commons, problems with cooperation, and running into social dilemmas in cyberspace. It didn’t really occur to me that there were too many issues concerning those topics in this particular e-mail group. Of course, all those topics would be viewed differently from each person’s point of view, but it seemed to me that everyone was being polite and sympathized with what the writer of the each post had to say. It may have been easy for the members to open up and write about their personal problems because of the simple fact that although we were all strangers, we knew that we wouldn’t be judged, as we would be if we were to talk about issues to our friends and/or families.

In conclusion, I was surprised to find how many males were actually posting up messages. I was also surprised to find that the members were all sympathetic of the problems and dilemmas mentioned by the writers. One thing I realized was that because everyone is a stranger, the criticisms or things that might have been perceived as negative if said by a friend/family, were perceived in a different light. The writer might see and understand things a bit different when told by a stranger rather than a close friend or a family. Although there are many rising problems from communicating on the internet, observing this particular group reassured me that there are still many people out there who do not take advantage of the fact that we are behind a screen and anonymous.

Works Cited:
Kollock, Peter & Smith, Marc. (1996). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in computer communities. In Susn C. Herring (Ed.), Computer-mediated communication: Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 109-128). Philadelphia: John Benjamines

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