Saturday, January 07, 2006


We're in Northern California for the holidays, and I happened to meet an old college friend of my husband. I noticed a stack of old, manual typewriters in cases along a wall in their apartment and inquired about them. As it turns out, this woman and her husband organize letter-writing campaigns, gathering a group of like-minded ("left wing") folks together to type out letters to politicans. The motive behind this scheme is the oft-touted belief that one visibly hand-written letter is considered a representation of 100 individuals (as opposed to, say, an e-mail petition or even a computer-generated letter). They encourage individuals to mark the letters in some way so that it is clear they are generated by live human beings - putting a coffee ring on one, or perhaps crossing out a few words here or there.
This made me think about some of the findings that have emerged from my interviews with online dating participants. Many of these individuals disucssed the way in which the words in a profile (the content) were not as important clues to identity as were other stylistic aspects of the message, such as the time an email was sent, the extent to which the message included typographic or grammatical errors, the length of a profile description. I'm still thinking about the meaning of this, but I think there's something interesting here about the ways in which technology gives voice to more individuals, but in doing so mutes their individuality. And thus we work harder to insert this information back in (lugging manual typewriters around) and to discern information about others ("What time was this message sent? 1 am? He must be desperate."). Of course, SIP (Social Information Processing) theory does a similar claim, but I think there's more there to uncover -- especially as CMC norms continue to develop.