Re: The spirit of the medium

lisa johnson-shull (
Thu, 27 Mar 1997 12:37:02 -0600

>Having just tuned into a conversation about words on the list serve, I
>wrote a few words that I have pet peevs about and sent them along (I don't
>really even understand the words "pet & peev" and where they come from or
>why they mean something bothersome, but I used them anyway). I sent them
>because it was fun and a diversion from what I really should be doing
>today. Now I want my words back. But it is too late.

After sending the words, I read someone's caution that we be careful not to
hurt the feelings of others who use our "pet peev" words in conversations
or who enjoy those words. Such a caution, although perhaps necessary if we
are firing mean and nasty remarks to each other, made me wish I had just
kept my silly words to myself.

Every time I write something to this listserve (unless it just a simple
query for information), I sweat before I push the send button. This is an
exceedingly stressful medium. I have begun to think that the potential for
offending people outweighs the other benefits of having this kind of
collective conversation among writing center professionals. I find the
greatest weakness in the medium to be the dearth of opportunity for ethos
building--which is essential if what you say is to be taken in the proper

There is plenty of opportunity for academic ethos building, but building a
character for yourself that allows people reading your messages to
interpret your tone is not easily accomplished. Perhaps creating a symbol
system that lets you put little happy faces next to your words when you are
trying to be funny, or little lightning bolts when you are being nasty
would help clarify tone.

Certainly, any well crafted piece of writing should make tone and intention
fairly clear; but these little missives on this listserve are typically not
"well crafted;" it would defeat the purpose of the exchange. These are
quick little snippets of thought (most of the time). My sense is that we
must try and accept the words delivered through this medium as well-meaning
and in the spirit of collegialty and commaraderie (sp? I hate that word
too-simply because I can't spell it and therefore can't look it up to find
out how to spell it). If we can't agree to accept peoples contributions as
primarily good intentioned then pretty soon the exchange will dry up
because people will feel afraid they will be misread. I vote for the
little emotion symbols.

O.K. I'm gonna send this. I am starting to sweat. Who cares what I have
to say? What if this sounds stupid? What if I didn't make myself clear?
No one really knows me and . . ..

Lisa Johnson-Shull



The Margin: