Their Names Are Written in the Book of Life...
links for 2010-07-21

Listserves in the Age of Google Archives

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James Fallows:

On Today's Hot Media Stories: Virtues: at its best, it was a way of getting informed comment from people you wouldn't otherwise be in touch with. For me, this meant hearing from people: with experience in Afghanistan or Iraq; with expertise on financial regulation; with sharply diverging views about the importance of controlling the federal deficit; with informed views about what it would take to implement the new health care bill; with experience in reporting about intelligence agencies; with some knowledge of what is up with California state government; and so on.

Faults: Flame wars... inbox-clogging IM-style replies... the inevitable reality was that most messages would not be of interest to any given member. And -- as with most of the other listservs I've been on over the years and am still on -- many people, especially the young ones, wrote with an innocent assumption that they were talking within a community, rather than for potential years-later out-of-context quotation. I am chagrined to note that virtually the only thing I ever contributed to this group was a sadder-but-wiser warning that nothing in digital form was ever "private," so people should write only what they were willing to stand behind in public.

The "informed" parts of the discussion were useful; for the rest, I just pushed DEL. It's the same with all the other listservs I've been on over the years -- and there are half a dozen I'm on now.... Anthropologically they are all the same.... But all participants think they're operating within some kind of community -- rather than speaking, politician style, as if any half-sentence could be used against them in its most damaging construction at any later time.

In the other listservs I know -- about China, software, aviation, defense, cybersecurity, etc -- some people's careers could be gravely damaged if their least judicious single sentences were used against them out of context years later. I really, really hate to see that done to young people now. "Have you no decency?" is the right question for Andrew Breitbart. It's also the right question for the Daily Caller, whose editor (Tucker Carlson) asked for membership in the dreaded Journolist -- and was turned down -- just before it began seriatim publishing of damaging quotes against young writers.

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