Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online

Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online

Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online

Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online


The Internet is changing the way we communicate. As a 'cross' between letter-writing and conversation, email has altered traditional letter-writing conventions. Websites and chat rooms have made visual aspects of written communication of greater importance, arguably, than ever before. New communication codes continue to evolve with unprecedented speed.

This book explores playfulness and artfulness in digital writing and communication and anwers penetrating questions about this new medium. Under what conditions do old letter-writing norms continue to be important, even in email? Digital greetings are changing the way we celebrate special occasions and public holidays, but will they take the place of paper postcards and greeting cards? The author also looks at how new art forms, such as virtual theatre, ASCII art, and digital folk art on IRC, are flourishing, and how many people collect and display digital fonts on handsome Websites, or even design their own. Intended as a 'time capsule' documenting developments online in the mid- to late 1990s, when the Internet became a mass medium, this book treats the computer as an expressive instrument fostering new forms of creativity and popular culture.


This book is the culmination of nine years of research and experience on the Internet. I first began to use email at the Hebrew University in the summer of 1991. Sensing that there are distinctive aspects to this new form of letter- writing, for a while I kept a journal of my observations on the language of email and the experience of using it. I had had an interest in letters and letter- writing from the early days of my Ph.D. dissertation in sociology at the University of Chicago, an analysis of letters to the Israel customs authorities. Then, however, the focus was on issues of substance, not the form of letters.

Research in sociolinguistics and discourse analysis, with an emphasis on the intersection of law and language, had led me in the mid-1980s to undertake a study of the transitional language of Old English wills, together with Bryna Bogoch. At the time, I was interested in aspects of the transition from oral to literate culture. in the fall of 1991 I taught a graduate seminar at the Hebrew University on “Communication in Times of Technological Transition.” Like the research, the seminar focused on medieval times.

A doctoral student at New York University in Jerusalem at the time, Lucia Ruedenberg-Wright (later to become my collaborator), had contacted me, knowing that her supervisor, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and I were friends and colleagues. Originally, Lucia had discovered Internet Relay Chat (IRC) as a means for Barbara and her to be in touch while she worked on her dissertation in Jerusalem. But Lucia noticed that there were fascinating things going on in this new form of communication. She began sending Barbara interesting sequences of chat on irc. Knowing my interests, Barbara, then on leave at the Getty Center in California, sent them flying back to me in Jerusalem. So great was the impact of what I saw that I felt that my seminar students and I could no longer discuss “communication in times of technological transition” without talking about the Internet. I proposed to them, midway through the semester, that we abandon the course structure as presented at the beginning, and start again (only because I had tenure at the university did I dare to take such a radical step). Eleven out of 12 students agreed to make this startling change, and so we started over. There was little to read, as the literature was mainly about instrumental, rather than expressive aspects of communication on the Internet. Still, it was a beginning.

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