20 February 2009


The joke about how spam "used to be a luncheon meat" has definitely become passe. Partly because anyone not living under a rock knows that Spam still is a lunch meat, and also because the currently retiring are tech savvy enough to know the slang term for unsolicited email.

There was an interesting debate over the MLIS listserv at UWO over whether or not the listserv itself should be used as a forum for debate. The whole thing is summed up quite nicely by this fellow, who invited people to continue the debate over on his blog. It appears there haven't been any takers, but kudos to him for trying.

His argument is that information overload squelches intellectual freedom. I'm not sure that I agree. I think this particular incident was about location and intellectual freedom. Thinking of Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, these debates were also unsolicited and in a public forum. However, people had the option of bypassing Speaker's Corner entirely, or walking away from the debate when they tired of it.

When it comes to the MLIS listserv, the option to walk away is less available. These are emails that we are expected to read as MLIS students, and there are an awful lot of them. Really, our choice to avoid debate is taken away from us by virtue of the nature of the forum. Shouldn't intellectual freedom also include the freedom to not engage?

I exercised my right to not engage by closing (and eventually deleting) the email. Others protested for their right to not engage by responding. Oddly enough, before I had made the decision to delete the email, gmail interpreted the thread as being Spam and relegated it to the same fate as male enhancement tools and work from home scams.

I don't think intellectual freedom was in any way squelched here. The debate just took a different direction than the presence of Timmy Ho's on the lower floor.


Shivaun said...

Re: The listserv debate and Speaker's Corner: While I'm undecided as to whether the listserv could be used for debate, I found emailing one's opinions to the hundreds of strangers on the list to be roughly equivalent standing outside the NCB shouting into a mega-phone in terms of effective communication. If that is how you wish to communicate, fine, but don't think that it is a precise way to address your potential audience.

Erin said...

I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think you're right. When all the crowd can really do is mumble back in mass incoherence, it's pretty one-way, isn't it.