Silence as the Predominance or Absence of Authority

Margaret Daisley
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst

As Zuboff has observed, the use of CMC within business situations represents the automating of the type of social discourse that would previously have been carried out over water coolers or lunch, or in restrooms and hallways, or more pertinently in the type of brainstorming sessions in which research and development departments have traditionally engaged as part of the process of creating solutions to problems. One effect of this "textualization of sociality," as Zuboff calls it, besides eliminating the barriers of space and time in bringing people together, is to make members of an organization feel joined together, connected, "tapped into the grapevine" (367).

The Rhetorical Dimensions of Cyberspace
Margaret's Stuff:
Silence. Silence! Silence? Silence... | Silence as Non-participation
Silence as Marginalization | Natural Silences | Research Situation
Theoretical Framework | Silences Researcher Encountered | Unnatural Silences
Code of Silence | Silences Students Encountered | Communication Anxiety
Evaluation Anxiety | Silences Instructor Encountered
Silence as Tacit Knowledge | Silence as Listening
Works Cited | Conclusions | Epilogue

However, another effect of the "informating" capacity of CMC is to provide a means for managers to "control and channel what had always been the most ephemeral aspects of subordinates' behavior" (382). This is Foucault's panopticon effect, as Zuboff points out-- the Orwellian nightmare of being unable to escape Big Brother's authoritarian glare, a phenomenon not unique to business. Joseph Janengelo (1991) describes three such instances of panopticon-like "technopower and technoppression" in educational situations, in which instructors "spy" on students and colleagues, and students harrass other students through manipulation of stored transcripts. Such instances of the use of silent, oppressive force seem inevitably to subvert CMC's potentially more positive benefits.

In a similar manner, in much of the literature on uses of CMC in popular situations, silence is often interpreted as a consequence of silencing, which itself is seen as an aggressive or even violent act, if certain speech acts can be thought of as causing physical pain in the form of mental anguish. In an article called "Rape in Cyberspace" (Village Voice, 1993), for example, Julian Dibbell describes how one seemingly sociopathic member of an Internet virtual community used a subprogram to disable other participants' control over their own "characters," forcing them to say and "do" things against their wills. Eventually, the virtual community was able to have the perpetrator "toaded"--i.e., his online existence in the community was terminated; he was permanently silenced in that forum.

Many have reported on less violent, but just as disturbing, episodes of "flaming" and "wilding" in instructional situations where sexist, racist, homophobic and other inappropriate remarks made by some students force others into silence, thereby destroying the shared community feeling of the discourse situation (e.g. George 1990; Takayoshi 1994). Indeed, researchers frequently seem to read silences in CMC as an inherent social problem, portraying quieter participants as victims, in essence, who have no sense of authority in discourse situations because of their unchangeable physical identities (gender, race, ethnicity) and the cultural histories from which they have learned conventions for discourse. Silence is frequently equated with the margins of a discourse community; those who do use language are portrayed as occupying center stage, "dominating" those who don't (see especially Herring 1993; Wahlstrom 1994).

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Tuesday, October 28, 1997 at 4:32 PM
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