The InterPsych Newsletter 2(3)



IPN 2(3) Section A: Editorial


                       SECTION A: EDITORIAL

                    KILL ME - I'M USEFUL!

Wherever we are, wherever we go, whatever we do - people build
on past experience and attempt to impose old frames of
reference to unstructured, novel situations, and high-
uncertainty conditions. The information superhighway is no
exception. Individuals naturally apply tactics which have
proved to be successful in the "real world" to the "virtual
world" as well. However, there are potential pitfalls to such
an approach, which the following explanations and examples
ought to make clear.

Cyberspace started a tabula rasa, history-wise first colonized
by technicians, hackers and eccentrics who probed its
possibilities and challenged its boundaries. Today, to the
extent that these boundaries exist, it is because we have
imposed them on ourselves. The Internet has come to be seen as
a "tool", a way to accelerate knowledge distribution, an
instrument of information acquisition and, most
controversially, a method of expansion and proliferation of
standards and structure, regulation, mainstream beliefs. In
essence, many people seem to think of the information super
highway as a fancy multi-membered high-tech fax machine.
Debates among InterPsych(TM) list members and coordinators are
illustrative of the phenomenon. They include increasing mail
volume, attending to all member questions, building new
boards, dealing with junk mail, requiring credentials for list
membership, and banishment from lists. All of these issues
show potential of being dealt with in one of the long-standing
ways of the physical world. The following discussion aims to
prove that the real-world methods are clearly worth
rethinking. Although examples may read challenging or - worse
- antagonistic, consider them as constructive comments by
stretching the arguments to the extremes.  Also note: All
quotes are authentic.

Example no. 1: There has recently been a discussion on
increasing the quality and utility, collegiality and user
satisfaction, or increasing "mail traffic volume", which is
low on some lists. There are no deus-ex-machina solutions to
these problems. Still, there are honorable, promising and
creative efforts to build and maintain group identity, serve
the customer by compliantly answering questions, creatively
organizing discussions, and approaching other areas of

One discussion item in this context has been "questions left
unanswered" by frustrated list members posting to a forum.
However, discussion forums are no Q-A vending machines. One
proposal has been to require that each message sent be
answered by members or by the listowner. However, in effect,
one does not know what to get, after input, which seems
disturbing to some individuals with a strong desire for clear
input-output contingencies as in computer processing. This may
urge them to impose mainstream beliefs and standard
procedures, which have demonstrated utility in the "real
world". But can you equate the "real world" with the "virtual
world"? Yes, if you view the former as a mere extension to the
latter. No, if you judge the Internet as a medium offering a
whole array of new possibilities, possibly unknown and
potentially unworkable in the "real world". Would you want to
miss out on these possibilities?

Example no. 2: Keyphrase "Trust the experts". A solution has
been proposed for improved management of lists, namely
building advisory boards in the background, and "review bodies
of any disputes". If you are at a loss in any matter, just
resort to those assemblies. Quote: "I believe that this
discussion has likely gone as far as it will go here, and the
issue will need to be taken up by the group W and board X".
Or: "Group Y [is] working on fixing up InterPsych forums. "
Or: "I am glad to hear group Z is working on the tension
between lists [...]". The point in question: Boards function
well in the hierarchically structured "real world". On the
egalitarian net, they create potentials of censorship and,
inversely, a deceptive comfort of always keeping the ball
rolling by the leaders. We're also making concessions to
democracy: Paradise lost in the only realm that was and still
could be the only place where individuals talk to each other
on equal terms - devoid of status, roles and official

Example no. 3: Keyphrase "junk mail". While, on one side,
complaints arise about low mail traffic, we also know of the
opposite phenomenon: Information overload and using the list
for "getting it off the chest". So, should we break up lists
into smaller sub-lists, eliminate "unsuccessful ones" or merge
them into bigger lists?

Employing the language of signal-to-noise ratios, think about
what's noise. The signal of one may be noise to the other. So,
even if threatened by statements like "without a reputation
for high level scholarly discussion, the best minds will
withdraw from InterPsych", who are we to judge, who the best
minds are or will be or will be not or will be by virtue of
regulation or owing to creating, tolerating and attending to
so-called noise? And what's high-level discussion? While
discussion of the Rorschach, MMPI, qualitative research
methods or psychoanalysis maybe viewed as lowly by some, they
may be judged entirely appropriate by others.

So, "low-level" could lead to "public psycho-chat" and we
don't want that, we, the InterPsych consortium, want to be "a
professional service". Quote: "[Although all lists should have
been open to] academics, clinicians, patients and relatives [...],
this just isn't going to work because the networks get
overloaded with trivia."  Drawing on analogues, HAM folks have
no problem with that: Tune in the channels you want, screen
out the noise, switch as you please. (But don't ask about the
acronym HAM; that's the "trivia").

Here's a real case: While there were already clinical-
psychology-related lists in existence with high-quantity and
lively discussion, they were judged as low-quality and
non-scholarly by renown clinical psychologists. Now we have a
separate list that aims to maintain that super-quality level;
result: lowest mail traffic as compared to the existing lists,
possibly striving for (quote) "journal-ready articulation of
ideas". Quote: "The 'hard' truth is that if we don't enforce
reasonable and well thought out exclusion rules there will be
no groups!" We have living evidence of that in the
here-and-now: A virtual no-list, officially sponsored, with
highest quality. Well-intended solutions that worked in the
real world do not necessarily work the same way on the net.

Example no. 4: Another related controversy has revolved around
exclusion-inclusion and the banishment of members by
non-compliance to rules. Quote: "Banishment and control are
natural properties of well-functioning groups. They happen
naturally. Forcing them may screen out people who: a) would
learn a lot from us; and b) would perhaps eventually teach us
something. Forcing them may also toxify and deaden the group
atmosphere."  Another quote: "The real question is how to
allow discourse, learning and community for all effected
groups. That's the challenge here."  If you have not been
affected yet, be aware that membership restrictions have
already been put into effect in some discussion forums. The
apparent paradox is that only the ones with demonstrable
credentials should participate, while also establishing
rules for lots of exceptions - and one time, we may have more
members-by-exception than regular ones...

Quote: "If Inter[P]sych is to flourish it must serve the
scholarly community, not the general public." Question:
"Doesn't the scholarly community serve the general public?"
Another quote: "I don't think that there is anything at all
[...] censorial in InterPsych trying to meet the needs of any
particular constituency". But which constituency do we
address? Or as another member has put it: "The real study of
the psyche of humanity occurs daily in the actions,
interactions and reactions of that general public which
Interpsych will not serve."

Scholarship is not a matter of credentials. It is a matter of
personal dispositions, enthusiasm, knowledge, experience and
interest in a subject matter and we don't want to drain
budding scholarship by rigid requirements for credentials,
so-called high quality input or structures that don't fit the
highly varying needs of groups and individuals. Of course,
there is a definite need for requirements, but there are
two sides of the coin. Internetting gives us the unique chance
to keep the undesirable side-effects of requirements and
regulations at minimum levels.

Example no. 5: Keyword "list moderation". Of course, we also
have scapegoats for list failure and membership
dissatisfaction: List moderators and counterproductive or
passive members. Sticking to the former: List moderators don't
react to questions quickly enough, they don't restrict discussions
carried on ad infitium and ad nauseum, they are too rigid or
too tolerant, and they don't fill the void if discussion on
the forum is sluggish. They are asked to indulge in activism
by acknowledging each posting to the list, but they should
take care of discouraging moderator-dependency. On the other
hand, they should not condescend in attending to "low-level",
"basic-text-book" questions, but serve as "facilitators" in
list activation. Every moderator has his or her own style.
Would we want look-alikes molded by regulation and by
selective membership criticisms? It is the list coordinators
that add spice to the forum and food-for-thought should not
taste all the same.

Why do we need guidelines? Why do we need to be "orderly"? The
common denominator may be complying to ethical rules,
disseminating information, defending democratic principles,
and the almost-too-trite-to-state mission of simply helping.
The Internet is full of possibilities and we are in danger of
reducing those to a minimum or, more probably, causing
more scatter, split-ups, new lists and heated, never-ending
controversy. This is exactly the situation we face everyday in
the "real world"; while it may work well for some, realize
that it also stifles others. So, if you want to carry
hierarchical real-world structures into the Internet,
you might just as well exterminate its other potentials. Why
not? After all, it's useful enough with its virtual-fax
possibilities, and the "other possibilities" are nothing but
noise - never signal. We wouldn't want to be puristically
democratic and indulge in free-floating generation of ideas,
brainstorming or naive inquiries from the not-know-it-alls.
So: Do kill me - I'm still useful as is!