Cut down to size

June 9, 1995

Edward Vielmetti Ann Arbor MI emv@Mail.Coast.NET

Having once believed a bit too strongly in the myth of the Internet as a tool for transcending space and time, I am now of the opinion - having learned the hard way, with thousands more e-mail messages to read than I was able to answer - that it is not such a suitable medium for either scholarship or research.

The naive faith that simply because something exists electronically and can be recalled at will means that it has been "published" is absurd when you realise that hundreds of millions of other random documents of all possible combinations of truth, lies, and relevance have also been published in the same manner.

Selecting the one bit of writing that the author has self-determined to be scholarly (and who has marketed it shamelessly as such) does not, in and of itself, mean that you have engaged in scholarship, especially when authors are empowered to be editors and reviewers of their own work.

Careful editing of fevered intentions and rapid typing of well-worn critiques can easily crowd out new viewpoints.

This poor medium does not allow me to sketch out for you the notes on my blotter, the constructions of the "web" that would variously allow one document among many in it to be either emphasised and made prominent among many or the careful hypertext editing that can take a careful well-written critique and turn it into a footnote among footnotes.

The hypertext architects blithely blazing their own trail through a thicket of texts have much more say in the presentation of an argument than the same author hemmed in by an editor who cuts them down to size and shape and leaves room for refutation on the facing page.

I cannot disagree with Stevan Harnad because I am not a publishable author, not by his standards nor by the academic standards in which he seeks his status. This message will get flung out to some smallish group which I have contributed to before (PACS-L) and then will evaporate into the mists of network history, half remembered by a few and glossed over by others.

Had I the proper motivations (per Harnad) I would go back through all archives of all articles I had ever written, plus the thousands of messages saved and sent and unread, and spew them all out onto the Net as scholarship - but you know, life is too short for all that typing, and there has to be something more to the process of collective discourse and learning than mad typing all hunched over a keyboard into the late hours.

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