[iDC] online silence

Jean-baptiste Labrune Jean-Baptiste.Labrune at lri.fr
Wed Aug 29 14:24:46 UTC 2007

Hi Yoram,

and hello to the list, since i'm also a new member,
(i'm j*b from paris, finishing my phd dissertation about
children and creative technologies)

On the contrary to Craig, i think you could write dozen of phd's
on the topic of email :) My phd advisor wrote her dissertation
about email usage by programmers during project Athena (
prototype of X-window system). By presenting quantitative and
qualitative data (Grounded Theory) about email usage, she
  showed that people co-adapt technologies. Her phd here

In continuation of her research, i show that the use of technologies
in creative contexts is an exaptive phenomenon. I borrowed this
term from evolutionnary psychologists, to point the caracteristics
of children reconfigurations in interactive systems (co-opted
adaptation, cooption).  And one of the example i give in this  
is precisely the email, which is an exaptation of File Transfer  
The origin of email stems from a reconfiguration of the initial function
of file's name labels. After the introduction of FTP, they observed   
people sent 0 Kb files. In fact, people used the name field of files to
exchange messages. After a while, RFC 385 added a new command
called MAIL in the specification: the beginning of a massive

Your project makes me think of a beautiful piece of software called
REMAIL from a researcher now working for Yahoo Research called
Bernard Kerr (among other).
This software precisely visualizes the level of email feedback according
to your social network, classifiying your contacts in terms of their  
to answer to your emails or to remain silent. In addition, it gives  
you not
only a statistical perspective on your social network but also  
viz of email activity on the individual and social level. Maybe  
visualising time
we spend on emails would make us aware of our infoaddiction, and stop  
it, or maybe
it would on the contrary add another obsession to our already  
nevrotic email
boulimy. In France, you can get reimbursed if you go to see a  
psychonalyst for
this pathology !

Also of interest, the Slow Messenger project  (Julian Bleecker from  
It's a critical design and research piece that let you send very very  
slow messages:

Good luck for your phd,


Le 29 août 07 à 15:06, Craig Bellamy a écrit :

> Hi Yoran,
> Thanks very much for this. I think you have some good ideas here,  
> but do
> you think that this idea will sustain a whole PhD dissertation? A  
> PhD is
> a lot of work and if you are only talking about email, then you may
> exhaust the topic very quickly.
> And you mention something very interesting in your passage. This is
> 'information overload'. I would concentrate more on this and the
> technical responses to this. To be very blunt, not more can be said
> about email but a lot can be said about filtering information, which
> defines todays web and will for quite along time. I am more interested
> in your own silence about this.
> best,
> Craig Bellamy
>> Hi,
>> In my first posting to this fascinating group, I would like to  
>> introduce
>> myself and my research interests, as well as suggest a topic for
>> discussion. I am a PhD student researching ?online silence? at the
>> Center for the Research of the Information Society at The  
>> University of
>> Haifa. I am trying to define what online silence is, to understand  
>> what
>> causes online silence, and to explore the consequences of online
>> silence. In case you are wondering what I mean by online silence, the
>> best example is a situation in which you send an email, expect an
>> answer, and then days and days go by, and you do not receive an  
>> answer.
>> Ever occurred to you?  J
>> One of my findings is that most email responses come very quickly,  
>> quite
>> often within a few hours, and that emails that are not answered  
>> within a
>> few days, are quite likely never to receive a response. I also found
>> that quite many of the cases of online silence reported by people,  
>> are
>> cases in which people intended to respond but did not do so  
>> immediately,
>> and this delay eventually turned into silence.
>> In my research I speculate quite a lot about the reasons for this
>> asymmetric distribution of response times, and a recent paper  
>> published
>> in First Monday (link below) made me question the implications of  
>> this
>> asymmetry. I would be very interested in getting some perspectives  
>> from
>> this group about these implications. The paper focuses on ?Infomania?
>> and describes the ever increasing pressure exerted on knowledge  
>> workers
>> who are trying to cope with an ever growing information (over) 
>> load, and
>> with the constant increase in frequency and obtrusiveness of
>> interruptions afforded by always-on, always-next-to-us communication
>> devices. Under these circumstances of an ever present flood of  
>> messages,
>> is it any wonder that we either provide an immediate answer, or  
>> hardly
>> respond at all?
>> Link to article: http://snipurl.com/zeldes
>> What I would like to do with the help of this group is to peek  
>> into the
>> future, and ask together with you a question about Infomania, and  
>> about
>> our increasing inability to respond to all of the messages we  
>> initially
>> intend to respond to. Are these temporary phenomena, or are they  
>> here to
>> stay? If online silence is a result of our inability to cope with
>> information overload and interruptions, what might improve this
>> situation? Will the solution come from culture? From technology?  
>> From a
>> change in the way our brains are wired? All of the above? None of the
>> above? Is this the first time humanity is facing such a challenge?  
>> Are
>> there important lessons from the past?
>> Obviously, if you have other questions, comments or interesting
>> anecdotes about online silence, please send them too.
>> Thanks!
>> Yoram
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