Protest visionary: E-mail feels like “denial-of-service attack against my brain”


Adbusters editor and protest motivator Micah White prefers people to send letters to his snail-mail address. His website reads: "Micah does not use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, et cetera. He reluctantly accepts e-mail at"


Micah White, the 29-year-old Adbusters editor who helped spur the Occupy Wall Street movement, is not on Facebook, which he calls "the commercialization of friendship."

In a New Yorker article last month about the origins of OWS, White said that he used e-mail and Twitter only because he felt compelled to. He said that he believed in "the Heideggerian critique of technology, that it turns us into empty matter for the exportation of capitalism."

"All these e-mails — it feels like a denial-of-service attack against my brain," the Canadian told reporter Mattathias Schwartz.

Is e-mailing more like “writing” or more like “talking”?

The Pew Internet in American Life Project released a fascinating report last month on "Teens, Technology & Writing" that concluded, "Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their e-mails, instant and text messages as writing." As a writing instructor, I wonder about the implications of this — especially whether I'm fighting an uphill battle trying to get students to hold e-mail messages to the same standard as formal writing.

My argument for formal e-mails is that students need to learn to express themselves in many modes, in order to meet the expectations of various audiences. You don't communicate with your friends in the same mode that you use with your family members or bosses or teachers. Writing to people such as the latter — who are in a position to evaluate you (e.g. fire you, give you a bad grade, deny you an interview) — in an informal mode seems immature and irresponsible.

Sure, sometimes e-mails are sent from handheld devices and feel more
like a text message than a letter. And instant messaging happens in the same
place as e-mailing (say, in Gmail) so I can see how people could
equivocate the two. But it seems better that students err on the side
of being too formal than being too informal, especially with people
upon whom they're trying to make a professional impression.

Continue reading “Is e-mailing more like “writing” or more like “talking”?”

I read the newspaper (so others don’t have to)

I love the New York Times. I live in New York City. And I'm a journalism professor. So I feel like it's my personal, community and professional duty to get daily home delivery of one of the world's greatest newspapers. But sometimes when I see that foot-tall pile of papers accumulating over the course of a week, it seems like a part-time job and I kinda wish the Times were paying me to read their paper instead of vice versa.

Doing so, however, does unearth nuggets like these regarding current techno-cultural developments. First:

  • Cell refuseniks! While 85 percent of adult Americans have them now, some people still don't want cellphones. And they're not just stubborn old folks. A subset of people in, say, their 20s and 30s, who had cellphones have been getting rid of them. Even though it makes communication slower and less convenient, they say the sacrifice is worth it because they resent the disruption or want to save money or prefer handwritten letters or think gadgets prevent them from living in the moment. Will controlling one's own availability become the new status symbol? Social pressures will make that difficult, the article says. But since when is it cool to give in to peer pressure, people? (Hence, the need for a slow media movement to raise awareness and help people resist. Which leads to…)
  • The Tyranny of Email! You might have heard about this book, which was reviewed in the Times recently. The author, John Freeman, also had an essay in the Washington Post published under the rubric of "A Manifesto for Slow Communication." The gist of his argument: Compulsive emailing fosters a busy-ness and a numbness that detracts from leading a meaningful human life. Our time on earth is limited and we should use it more purposefully, which means slowing down. He notes the breakdown between work and personal life, the isolation from real-world places, the increased difficulty in reading slowly and listening and being idle and not fidgeting. His eloquent manifesto (which deserves to be appreciated in full) asserts, "This is not a sustainable way to live. This lifestyle of being
    constantly on causes emotional and physical burnout, work­place
    meltdowns, and unhappiness. How many of our most joyful memories have
    been created in front of a screen?"
  • How Not to Act Old! Like Freeman, this article on the workplace generation gap recommends that you stop sending e-mail — but for a totally different reason. It focuses on a new book arguing that people should avoid wearing watches, counting their change, or using landlines lest they look — and I quote from the subtitle here — "totally lame." Research shows that much of the generational divide arises from technology. While older people are still trying to catch up with Internet and cellphone use, younger people have already abandoned e-mail in favor of texting and Facebook, and they don't even listen to voice mails. (I also read somewhere recently that the average teenager sends and receives 50-70 texts every day. Yikes!)