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Flame warriors on the Internet: the politics of cyber-acculturation

This compilation will be eventually complemented by others including those listed above; in the meantime please check out the (incomplete) Abhinavagupta forum-index under the following headings and topics:

[Forum-Index]

Index of individual emails

[ADMIN] closing of the list

Natural hierarchies in (otherwise) “democratic” issue-based discussions?

RE: Natural hierarchies in otherwise “democratic” issue-based  discussions?

Re: Abhinavagupta and the Synthesis of Indian Culture -collaborative online publication?

RE: Abhinavagupta and the Synthesis of Indian Culture -collaborative online publication?

More on Issue-Based Information Systems & the Abhinavagupta project....

May I post your chapter on the Friends page of our web-site?

Re: Bound to Israel - David Biale on Tikkun...

Re: linear versus threaded discussion for Abhinavagupta forum...

Linear versus Threaded discussion - how to Dia-Gnose across knowledge communities

 

Subject:

 [ADMIN] closing of the list

From: Dominik Wujastyk

Sent: Sunday, April 15, 2001 12:29 PM

To: INDOLOGY@LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK

 

When I started INDOLOGY a decade ago, I had in mind a list for fifty or so of my professional colleagues.

Over the years, INDOLOGY has become something else entirely, and membership now stands at about 650.

This is very flattering, in a certain sense, and it has been an interesting experience for me personally, since it has brought a certain fame and/or notoriety.  Scholars I've never met often know me from the list, and kindly greet me with warmth and recognition because of it. Usually there is a certain amount of wry commiseration too, since everyone knows that with its great success, INDOLOGY has also become unruly, and the signal-to-noise ratio has deteriorated badly.

I have always rather liked the fact that INDOLOGY was an open, public forum.  I work for a library which is very scholarly, but is also open to the public, and I value that highly.  Anybody can wander in off the pavement and order up a Sanskrit manuscript in the reading room.  There's something great about that.  And the same with INDOLOGY: the fact that complete newcomers, who have never read anything from the scholarly literature of classical Indian studies, can join in a discussion with the top professors from all over the world is truly remarkable.  In fact, I think it is more than remarkable.  I think it is an example of a certain democratization and flattening of hierarchies which the Internet can cause to happen.  In many cases this is a good thing.  But perhaps not in all cases.

There are still significant gains to be made from human hierarchies in certain situations, not least in the situation of student and teacher. Today, with the growth of tertiary education, it is not unusual for the teacher to be younger than the pupil, but the “gradient of knowledge” is what counts in the situation, and the fact that an epistemological hierarchy exists is important and valuable.  That someone says “I am a student, and I will approach my teacher with a desire to learn” and someone else says “I am a teacher, and I will do my best to enable this student to learn what they want to learn” creates a hierarchical situation in which learning can happen.  (Next day, the teacher may be in accident and emergency, being treated by the student, who has an evening nursing job: the hierarchy then is quite different.)

The flattening of hierarchies which has happened in INDOLOGY has meant that people who have spent entire professional careers developing scholarly skills in Indology have been accessible to complete beginners. This is a fascinating situation.  In some fields it would, I suspect, be sustainable.  But in humanities, there are fields like economics and politics in which the most unlettered person considers it a mark of honor to have a strong opinion on all questions connected with the topic.  Apparently Indology is also such a subject.  Anybody with any connection to India seems to feel qualified to argue with people who have spent a lifetime in the profession.

This is aggravated, of course, by the ideology of the current Indian party in government, which is not neutral on matters of Indology.

In the present situation, I think the value of INDOLOGY as a forum for scholarship has been eroded to the point at which it is no longer as useful to professional scholars as it can and should be.

In the next message I shall explain what I am about to do next.

-- Dominik Wujastyk

Founder, INDOLOGY list


Subject:

 Natural hierarchies in (otherwise) “democratic” issue-based discussions?

From: Visuvalingam, Sunthar 

Sent: Monday, April 16, 2001 2:17 PM

To: Jeff Conklin

Cc: Jack Park; Michel Biezunski; Steven R. Newcomb; Mary Keeler; Kathleen M. Fisher; Maheswari Kirby; Elizabeth Visuvalingam

Hi Jeff,

I did not respond to your exchange with Jack last week, because I wasn't sufficiently able to grasp its context, which is somewhat clearer after reading the executive summary of your book (title?) that I received just now. I too sensed a spark between us after Jack's paper at KT2001, and was sure we'd link up sooner or later—thanks to Jack's “nexiology” magic! Actually, I was thinking of you when I received last night the announcement below from the Indology mailing list that I've been lurking on for the past several years (without ever contributing a single post to my real area of specialization... :-).

The sorry fate of this mailing list, which is the barometer of a love-hate culture war now raging between “Western” scholarship and “Hindu” self-perception, is a perfect illustration of the point I tried to make at KT2001 about the need for agile sensitive facilitation in order for issue-based discussions to produce tangible, cumulative and lasting results. I'd be happy to know how your Visual Issue Mapping System (VIMS) coupled with Issue-Based Information Systems (IBIS) might have provided the sort of “container” that might have helped salvage this discussion (which is fraught with international political implications...). What the recipients of this email might find particularly interesting is the crucial role of “natural hierarchies” in ensuring that knowledge transfer/enhancement does indeed take place. Your book summary stresses the importance of listening; does the book actually describe how discussion/communication may be steered (as opposed to manipulated) so that it becomes increasingly clear who should be doing most of the listening as opposed to the talking?

I've copied Michel (and Steve) because he recently voiced concern about the turn that (even the technical) debates on the Topic Map mailing list have been taking; Mary Keeler for her work on “collaboratories”; Kathleen Fisher on facilitating learning through technology (SemNet); and Mahes Visvalingam likewise preoccupied with the dissemination of cutting-edge research. Finally, my despairing wife Elizabeth, to reassure her that I'm still doing “Indology” but with a difference...

Best wishes,

Sunthar


[Appended 5/11/01 by Sunthar]

Subject:

 RE: Natural hierarchies in otherwise “democratic” issue-based  discussions?

From: Jeff Conklin

Sent:  Wednesday, April 18, 2001 10:24 AM

To:     Visuvalingam, Sunthar

> 

Sunthar,

Thank you for your enthusiastic response to the Executive Summary!  Let me try to address your question. 

At 03:17 PM 4/16/2001 -0400, Sunthar.Visuvalingam@informit.com wrote: >...

The sorry fate of this mailing list, which is the barometer of a love-hate culture war now raging between “Western” scholarship and “Hindu” self-perception, is a perfect illustration of the point I tried to make at KT2001 about the need for agile sensitive facilitation in order for issue-based discussions to produce tangible, cumulative and lasting results. I'd be happy to know how your Visual Issue Mapping System (VIMS) coupled with Issue-Based Information Systems (IBIS) might have provided the sort of “container” that might have helped salvage this discussion (which is fraught with international political implications...).

[Jeff] The issues that you raise about the viability and coherence of on-line discussions (whether threaded discussion base or email list serve) are, in my opinion, THE challenge for the future of knowledge management (KM) and computer supported collaborative work (CSCW). 

First, we need to distinguish between synchronous and asynchronous communication media.  Same-time (synchronous) technology extends and augments the familiar face-to-face meeting in various ways, e.g. voice and video conferencing, application sharing, brainstorming and voting systems, etc.  Different-time (asynchronous) technologies extend and augment everything else—letter writing, e-mail, fax, threaded discussions, listservs, etc.

Experientially and energetically they are night and day.  The problems you cite with the Indology listserv show the classical pattern for asynchronous groupware failure, including the absence of normative social conventions like 'natural hierarchies'.

This is why, as I wrote to Jack, I favor trying to get the synchronous stuff right first—as a species we seem better suited to it :-)  So most of my work with IBIS and VIMS over the past 6 years has concentrated on augmenting face-to-face meetings in appropriate and effective ways.  (That's after my attempt at a software company focused on the asynchronous mode, which created some really great software, QuestMap, and then went under.)

To your question, the role of IBIS and VIMS in the asynchronous setting is a major research topic!  (A couple of years ago I wrote, with Jonathan Grudin and some other heavy hitters in the CSCW field, a proposal that I'm still quite proud of: Towards an Ecological Theory of Sustainable Knowledge Networks...

http://www.gdss.com/wp/ecology.html).

I believe that to get the asynchronous stuff right you need: (i) a focused group or community (ideally with previous face-to-face contact to create relationships), (ii) a skilled moderator or “owner” of the discussion space, (iii) technology tools that help the group and the moderator create coherence (most current asynchronous tools do little to increase coherence, and most just add to the fragmentation that is already rampant), and (iv) shared conventions and shared literacy in the group in the process of conducting extended discussions about wicked problems.  That's a lot! 

What the book I'm working on does is to clarify, from the standpoint of project teams (who thus have a lot of shared context but also many fragmenting forces pulling on them), how to use IBIS and “collaborative display” to create coherence in synchronous settings.  I plan to have a chapter to address the asynchronous mode, but when folks are geographically scattered, their shared context is necessarily weaker, and must be compensated for by a stronger collaborative literacy, e.g. literacy in issue-based discussion techniques. 

I hope that addresses your question, Sunthar!

Jeff

------- 

Dr. Jeff Conklin CogNexus Institute

... Shared Display, Collective Intelligence

304 Arbutus Dr. Edgewater, MD 21037

Subject:

 Re: Abhinavagupta and the Synthesis of Indian Culture -collaborative online publication?

From: Oscar Pujol-Escrich

Sent: Friday, May 11, 2001 10:47 AM

To: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Querido Sunthar,

I really appreciated your last message where you explained in some detail how your project on Abhinavagupta could grow in a digital media. I think that your idea has an enormous potential. Best of all is that you are already very conscious of hidden traps: the subtle censorship that plagues institutionalized Orientalism (how true it is!) and the free-for-all confusion that afflicts Internet (its weakest point indeed: vast areas of the Internet appear like electronic gutters in a land of Ritalin-children). Finding a balance between these two will be a delicate task that will require a person like you in a strong moderation role. You will have to combine determination with gentleness to hold the discussion thread. But you have lot of assets: your knowledge of both Indian tradition and modern computers; the figure of Abhinava, which in itself, I believe, has the power of binding together lot of people; and a network of able friends spread in different countries ready to help you. Count on me on whatever little help may I offer.

It was really great to talk to you after all these years. Let's get together we may end up doing lot of meaningful things!

All the best

Oscar


Subject:

 RE: Abhinavagupta and the Synthesis of Indian Culture -collaborative online publication?

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Friday, May 11, 2001 4:13 PM

To: Pujol-Escrich

Cc: […]

Querido Oscar,

Thanks for your warm endorsement of the Abhinava initiative and your offer to pitch in! My confidence in being able to pull this off derives from my previous success with 2 mailing lists. As Executive Editor at (the now defunct) Que Education and Training (98 to mid-99), I managed an entire team of freelance authors (all college professors), editors, designers, usability testers, etc., to create a high-quality Microsoft Office (2000) Essential series (which was taken over by Prentice Hall). So successful was this online collaboration that new editions on the Office 2001 update have been managed/coordinated largely by the authors themselves and now completed even before the software has hit the shelves. Despite the IT-taxonomy building focus, the second mailing list that I had been animating since last August has been productively debating cutting-edge publishing/education-related technologies and concepts, and been interacting with parallel discussions in other related lists. The exchange with Jeff Conklin (appended below), an aside to the main list, was actually sparked off by the closure of the decade-old “Indology” list....it addresses points you've touched on!

My stay in Munich from June 16-23 is now confirmed. I'll keep you posted on developments.... 

Sunthar

> 

-----------

Sunthar Visuvalingam

Subject:

 More on Issue-Based Information Systems & the Abhinavagupta project....

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent:  Monday, May 28, 2001 1:18 PM

To:     Jeff Conklin

Cc:     Charles Mopsik; Jack Park; Michel Biezunski; Kathleen M. Fisher; Howard Liu; Mary Keeler; Maheswari Kirby

 

Hi Jeff,

I'm meeting with Dominik Wujastyk, the erstwhile moderator of the Indology mailing list (see below) in London on July 31 to learn from his experiences and insights. I'm also spending the last week of June with Oscar in Barcelona discussing the logistics of this project. [...].

I had drafted a response to your various observations on the greater viability of face-to-face communications media, but did not get to mail it out to the taxonomy list before I quit InformIT. The gist was my own perception that perhaps the most effective communication may be nurtured rather in the space between the synchronous and the asynchronous. I see many advantages to email, particularly the delayed response time (for research, food for thought...). The ability to choose and shuffle one's interlocutors so that (potential) collaborators are brought in at the most opportune moment (even for them). Of course, such a leisurely pace is more feasible in humanities (or even scientific) research than within the (often unrealistic  deadlines that define the) context of business projects, which seem to be your primary focus at the moment.

In any case, as I wrote to Jack just now, I believe you could contribute greatly to such research-cum-publication projects and personally benefit in turn (even commercially). […]. I'd be happy to be a reviewer for your book even as you develop your ideas...

Let’s stay in touch!

Sunthar

-----------

Dr. Sunthar Visuvalingam Senior Visiting Fellow, Harvard Univ. 1991-93

Ph.D. in Sanskrit/Philosophy, B.H.U. (1983)

Director of Research & Development at Pearson Education till April 30, 2001


From: Jeff Conklin

Sent: Thursday, June 07, 2001 11:51 AM

To: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Cc: Charles Mopsik; Jack Park; Michel Biezunski; Kathleen M. Fisher; Howard Liu; Mary Keeler; Maheswari Kirby

Subject: Re: More on Issue-Based Information Systems & the Abhinavagupta project....

Hello Sunthar,

I so appreciate your staying in touch with me, and your generous offer to review my writing as I work toward pulling this book together.

Well, I'd like to take you up on the offer.  I am taking the liberty of attaching an essay on “wicked problems” that I have just finished revising.  (An earlier version has been on the web for years.)  Would you look it over and tell me what you think?

As for the Abhinavagupta discussion, I agree with your feeling that effective communication takes place “in the space between” the synchronous and asynchronous spaces, but I don't think that email fills that bill, because email is a purely asynchronous tool.  I do agree about the strengths of email that you mention—it is indeed the best collaboration tool we have generally available.  However, I was involved in research in the 80's that showed that threaded discussions (this was on Usenet) went deeper and were more coherent when users could visually see the threading structure of the discussion.  So, we're still missing some basic tools and concepts to help make these virtual discussion spaces less fragmented and more coherent.  That's what I would like to think about in connection to your Abhinavagupta project.

Yours,

Jeff


Subject:

 May I post your chapter on the Friends page of our web-site?

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Saturday, October 27, 2001 3:23 PM

To: Jeff Conklin

 

 Dear Jeff,

 

> >

I plan to add eventually an entire area on Knowledge Management, especially as it relates to India, comparative religion and the current global crisis.…

I agree with you that e-mail in itself is an asynchronous tool; what I had in mind was the convergence of a variety of media, both synchronous and asynchronous, the resulting power of communication far exceeding any one of them taken separately.

 

Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

Sunthar


Subject:

 Re: Bound to Israel - David Biale on Tikkun...

From: Jeff Conklin

Sent:  Monday, October 29, 2001 10:10 AM

To:     Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sunthar,

It's been over a month since you sent this thoughtful and thought-provoking message.  Now I'm catching up, having gone into “email retreat” a month ago.  I support your idea for dialog, and have a few ideas about systems that would support the asynchronous aspect of such a dialog.  I would think, though, that some level of face-to-face interaction to establish a sense of community and a background of relatedness would be really helpful for such a charged and historically divided topic area.

Anyway, keep up the good work, and thank you for staying in touch.

Yours,

Jeff

Subject:

 Re: linear versus threaded discussion for Abhinavagupta forum...

From: Jeff Conklin

Sent: Tuesday, December 04, 2001 9:48 AM

To: Sunthar Visuvalingam

At 11:29 PM 11/19/2001 -0600, [Sunthar] wrote:

>Dear Jeff,

> 

I'm reviewing Discus as a possible discussion software for our relocated site. However, it's based on a linear model and I recall your expressing a preference earlier for a threaded model. What is your take on the pros and cons at:

> 

http://support.discusware.com/center/resources/essays/thread.html?

Hi Sunthar,

I'm afraid I'm not going to get a chance to look at Discus this month.  I'd like to check it out ... if you can wait until mid January for my thoughts, then great! 

Best to you and yours,

Jeff


Subject:

 Linear versus Threaded discussion - how to Dia-Gnose across knowledge communities

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Sun Jan 6, 2002; 1:59 pm

Use many vehicles of communication to assemble a coalition

With the Chariot in this position, there is long term potential to enlarge your scope of influence. As you expand the realm in which you move, you will more freely share your ideas and ideals and meet like-minded souls. Find the energy to travel, make connections, and use technology to network. Over time your enthusiasm for seeking new stimulation [...]. Don’t rush the process. Take time to savor each contact. Out of these you will be able to weave a web of team mates. Together you are going to change your world."

Chariot at Outcome (malkhut) position in Tree-of-Life Tarot spread, 29th January 2000.

Dear Jeff,

Actually, I wasn't suggesting that you review the various features of the Discus egroup software but simply respond to their argument for linear (as opposed to threaded hierarchic) postings. In any case, once I got the hang of Yahoo!Groups and its immense powers of aggregation across egroups, the issue of my taking on the administrative and technical burden for these forums became moot. In addition to the advantages of ease of use, administrative tools, neatness and efficiency, let me add a few observations after a month of working with the (not-so-) 'linear' model:

·         Lazy use of the Reply function—actually if one simply uses the Reply button to respond, Yahoo!Groups does keep track of the resulting thread thus allowing readers to browse to the original post and/or to subsequent comments. However, even cursory inspection will reveal that in most forums, these 'replies' often go off at a tangent, start a new thread, or are simply intended to reduce the number of keystrokes required to post a message. Obviously, technology is only an enabling factor that cannot substitute for cultivating the art of disciplined communication!

·         Subtopics impose straitjacket on multi-dimensional discourse—Discus does allow users to create subtopics so that the initial discussion may branch indefinitely with subgroups focusing only on those 'conversations' that interest them. The East-West dialogue, for which our Abhinava forum is the pretext, covers such a variety of subjects that some (like this one) are bound to be of only marginal interest to many (who have the Delete button at their disposal). However, contributions that truly advance the frontiers of knowledge would be expected to not only reveal and explore fruitful connections between previously unrelated topics but also stimulate controlled dialogue across separate virtual communities.

·         Multi-threading and evolving subject heads—personally, I rarely 'reply' to a post. Instead, I craft a new message and append the original email(s), editing them as appropriate. Instead of (still linear!) threading, I embed hyperlinks to relevant postings (sometimes buried deep) within other egroups that develop some of the critical premises in various directions, leaving it to the reader to decide whether to follow up on any of them. My 'response' may contain unobtrusive links to our full-fledged articles or even be introduced by a long citation from one of them, so that others may explore where I'm coming from. About halfway through the 'tentacular' post, I nail down the subject head, and take pains to ensure that the principal argument doesn't stray from its carefully chosen wording (also means that it shows up in archival searches by new members).

·         Cross-posting and web-thinking—my posts are often conceived with more than one virtual community as the target. Where the relevance to a particular egroup may not be obvious, I simply repost (sometimes just the link) with an introductory note (modifying the subject heading where appropriate) clarifying its significance to their concerns. This implies that the key ideas have to be self-consciously stripped down to their bare essentials to allow access from very different fields of interest. My ideal reader inhabits a few egroups by choice but also 'visits' other communities to enrich him/herself. The World Wide Web is compelling us to not only go beyond (an often vacuous) 'self-expression' to communicate our thoughts more rigorously, but to actually think-out-aloud in public so that others are encouraged to think-along for themselves!

With best wishes for the New Year!

Sunthar

P.S. I hope that we'll be able to pursue these discussions on enabling technologies for virtual trans-communities at our new Dia-Gnosis egroup.