This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 15, 1995

February 15, 1995 - virtual communities & email

Here's an interesting discovery. Lately, whenever I ask for comments from the public about library issues, most of my responses come not by phone, not by personal visit, but by electronic mail.

Electronic mail -- or "e-mail" -- is beginning to mark a significant change in the way people communicate with one another. I do believe that in many respects, it will be to our age what the discovery of the printing press was to the 15th century.

Here's what's good about e-mail:

* It ends phone tag. You can send or receive letters literally 24 hours a day, whether or not there's anybody there to receive them. E-mail can replace huge chunks of time once devoted just to trying to get hold of somebody.

* E-mail has the freshness and immediacy of a phone call, but the preservability of print. Most e-mail communications are less formal than a business letter. Like a telephone conversation, they often have a chatty, personal, and direct quality to them. But unlike a telephone conversation, e-mail can be quickly saved or printed. This can be extremely helpful when you're trying to track down something you promised to do, or dig out some other useful bit of information you know somebody passed on to you, but you can't readily recall.

* E-mail offers a truly international scope of correspondence, broadening both your information and your influence. A year ago, I wrote a feature for a library magazine. Last week, I got an e-mail message from the Chief Information Officer of the State Library in Pretoria, South Africa. She had read the piece, liked it, and thought she'd drop a line to the address at the end of the article. Again, e-mail brings a spontaneity to communication -- she probably wouldn't have taken the time to write me a more formal letter, but the terminal was right there. To the e-mail correspondent, sending a letter across an ocean is no more difficult than sending a letter to someone who works across the hall.

* As a result of all the above, e-mail has the ability to build "virtual communities" -- where friendships exist in cyberspace, and are based on common interests, not geographic proximity. No matter how narrow your interests are, somewhere in the world, there are people who share them. Before, you might never have run across these folks. Now, it really doesn't matter where they live.

But like all new technologies, e-mail has its downside, too.

* It's easily "snoopable." When I write a paper letter to somebody, I don't worry that someone is going to open and read it along the way. With e-mail, the odds are very good that somebody, at some level, if only on a random basis, will take a peek at it. E-mail is often routed through several machines, and can be captured at any point. For this reason, it isn't wise to electronically transmit credit card information, social security numbers, or anything you wouldn't want to see in the newspaper some day.

* Because e-mail is less formal than written correspondence, it is often less considered. The medium makes the message a little hastier, even careless. Many people believe that it is also easier to give offense -- hence the invention of the "smiley" -- a sideways typographic wink to show that you're just kidding. A smiley looks something like this: ;^). (Tilt your head 90 degrees to the left to see it correctly.)

* Finally, the growth of electronic or virtual communities may have the effect of further distancing people from their physical communities, their literal neighborhoods. Probably most of us all already too far away as it is.

On the other hand -- as many Douglas County people have shown me lately -- it can also provide a remarkably responsive way for people to pass on their experiences and opinions to local public institutions. And in my opinion, that's great.

(My e-mail address, again, is jlarue@csn.org.)

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