The RISKS Digest
Volume 15 Issue 12

Thursday, 14th October 1993

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

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Networking on the Network
Phil Agre
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Networking on the Network

Phil Agre <>
Wed, 13 Oct 1993 17:57:14 -0700
The following article (about 6300 words and 40kB) is a how-to for research
people who are learning to use the Internet as part of their professional
networking.  It has two goals, practical and philosophical:

Its practical goal is to give new users a structured way of thinking about
e-mail as part of everyday life.  It warns against some of the more common
risks of indiscriminate e-mail use, and it offers some specific formulas for
approaching common situations.

Its philosophical goal is to cast doubt on the idea of "virtual communities"
and "cyberspaces" that are supposed to exist in a different dimension from
the rest of our lives.  To the contrary, I think we should learn to view
electronic communications as part of a larger ecology of communication media
and community-building processes.  That's not to say that e-mail has no
revolutionary potentials; quite the contrary, it is to emphasize that real
revolutions can be made, and can *only* be made, as the article says, "down
here on earth, amidst your actual relationships with actual people, and not
in an abstract technological head-space."

"Networking on the network" is also an experiment in Internet publishing.
I don't get any credit for it at tenure time, but I do get to keep revising
it forever, based on the comments I receive from people all over the net.
At any given time the current version can be fetched by sending an e-mail
message like so:

Subject: archive send network

So please do send me any comments you might have.  I'm especially hoping to
get comments from students in classes (of which there are several already) in
which "Networking on the network" is assigned as a reading.  Phil Agre, UCSD
             - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


   Phil Agre
   Department of Communication D-003
   University of California, San Diego
   La Jolla, California  92093-0503

   Version of 21 September 1993.

Copyright 1993 by the author.  You may forward these notes electronically to
anyone for any non-commercial purpose.  Please send me any comments that
might help to improve future versions.

The Internet and other digital networks are currently undergoing explosive
growth.  Several million people employ electronic mail for some significant
portion of their professional communications.  Yet in my experience few
people have figured out how to use the net productively.  A great deal of
effort is being put into technical means for finding information resources
on the net, but hardly anybody has been helping newcomers figure out where
the net fits in the larger picture of their own careers.  These notes are
a first crude attempt to fill that gap, building on the most successful
practices I've observed in my fifteen years on the net.  Although I will
focus on the use of electronic communication in research communities, the
underlying principles will be applicable to many other communities as well.
Everyone's life is different, cultures and disciplines have their own
conventions, and it's all just my opinion anyway, but perhaps my suggestions
will be useful.  Do not interpret them as a set of rules or a manual of
etiquette or morality, but rather as a resource in figuring out your own
personal way of getting around in your particular professional world.  And
definitely do not turn them into any kind of ersatz social identity or value
system.  Instead, make sense of them within some larger set of values that
you develop as you live your life.

The first thing to realize is that net-world is part of reality.  The people
you correspond with on the network are real people with lives and careers
and habits and feelings of their own.  Things you say on the net can
make you friends or enemies, famous or notorious, included or ostracized,
respected or scorned.  You need to take the electronic part of your life
seriously.  In particular, you need to think about and consciously choose
how you wish to use the network.  Regard electronic mail as part of a larger
ecology of communication media and genres: telephone, archival journals and
newsletters, professional meetings, paper mail, voice mail, chatting in the
hallway, lectures and colloquia, job interviews, visits to other research
sites, and so forth, each with its own attributes and strengths.  The
relationships among media will probably change and new genres will probably
emerge as the technologies evolve, but make sure that you don't harbor the
all-too-common fantasy that someday we will live our lives entirely through
electronic channels.  It's not true.

One might engage in many different professional activities over the net:
sharing raw data, arguing about technical standards, collaborating on
research projects, commenting on drafts of papers, editing journals,
planning meetings and trips, and so on.  Underlying all of these disparate
activities, though, is the activity of building and maintaining professional
relationships.  All of the capacity and velocity of electronic communication
is wasted unless we use it to seek out, cultivate, and nurture relationships
with other human beings.  Unfortunately the existing mechanisms for
electronic interactions, by seeming to reduce people to abstractions and
codes (like ""), make it difficult to keep this deeper
dimension of interaction in mind.  Still, there's no escaping it: if you
aren't consciously building relationships, you're probably getting lost.

At the most fundamental level, then, most of my advice has nothing
intrinsically to do with electronic communication at all.  My real topic is
not (technological) networks but (professional) networking.  Therefore I'll
discuss networking in a general way before describing how electronic mail
can accelerate it.

In the past, the only ways to learn networking were to be born to a socially
well-connected family or to apprentice yourself to a master of the art.
And even though the term "networking" became fashionable during the 1980's,
it is only recently that decent books on the subject have begun to appear.
(Some of these are listed in the appendix.)  Many people resist the idea
of networking because they associate it with the greasy connotations
of "knowing the right people", because of a distaste for "politics",
because they've learned that useful knowledge about how the world works
is necessarily "cynical", or because it supposedly takes time away from
"getting real work done".  Even when the practical skills of networking are
explicitly taught, it is usually done over coffee or beer, in hushed tones,
as if there were something illicit about it.  Indeed, many people will
accuse you of all sorts of terrible things if you admit to having worked-out
ideas on the subject.  I couldn't disagree more.

The truth is that the world is made of people.  People out of communities
are like fish out of water or plants out of soil.  Research of all kinds
depends critically on intensive and continually evolving communication
among people engaged in related projects.  Networking cannot substitute for
good research, but good research cannot substitute for networking either.
You can't get a job or a grant or any recognition for your accomplishments
unless you keep up to date with the people in your community.  Establishing
professional relationships with particular people and involving yourself
in particular professional communities will change you: not only will you
internalize a variety of interesting points of view, but you will become
more comfortable in your writing and speaking because you will be engaged
in an ongoing conversation with people you know.  And if no community is
waiting for you, you will have to go out and build one — one person at
a time.  This "overhead" can be a nuisance at first, but none of it is
terribly difficult once you get some practice and really convince yourself
that you cannot sustain your professional life without devoting about a day
per week to it.

Here, then, are some of the fundamentals of professional networking.  They
will sound cumbersome and abstract.  You'll be able to skip some of the
steps as you get established in your field (or if, unlike most of us, you
are able to charm rooms full of strangers in twenty minutes), but if you're
starting from zero then the process really is this complicated:

(1) Know your goals.  Getting tenure?  Being invited to conferences in
Europe?  Filling your life with intelligent conversation?  Developing
leadership skills?  Clear goals will help you maintain focus.  Do not,
however, use your professional networking to achieve personal goals such as
finding friends and lovers.  It's just great when professional relationships
happen to develop into personal relationships (assuming that you're
clear about the conflicts of interest that professional power differences
can bring), but always keep in mind that professional relationships and
friendships are different sorts of things, no matter how friendly they might
seem on the surface.

(2) Identify some relevant people.  Awful as it might sound, "relevance"
here is reckoned in functional terms: given how your particular professional
world operates, with whom do you have a mutual interest in making contact?
In the world of research, mutual interest is almost always defined through
the content of your research: you wish to contact people whose research
bears some important relationship to yours.  This is the case I will assume
here.  How do you identify these people?  Most of the methods are wholly
mundane: asking people with good networks, chance mentions of people
in conversation, and habitually scanning bibliographies, abstracts, and
conference proceedings.  Get used to these mundane practices before you
explore anything fancier.

(3) Court these people individually.  The right way to do this is not
entirely obvious.  Unless you are already well known in the person's field,
you should NOT simply approach them and say, "hey, I hear you're interested
in XXX".  The reason for this is profound, viz, whereas ordinary social
life calls on you to simply be yourself in this way, professional life
calls on you to construct and maintain a complex professional persona that
is composed largely of your research, writing, and professional activities.
Therefore, in approaching possible professional contacts, you should let
your research articles be your emissaries.  (If you haven't written anything
yet, let your networking wait until you have.  Unpublished articles,
conference papers, and research reports are all okay.  In writing your first
articles, you will want to lean heavily on your local system of advisors,
mentors, and peers; the skills involved in this process are a subject
for another time.)  Here is the procedure: (a) choose someone you wish
to approach; (b) make sure that your article cites that person's work in
some substantial way (in addition to all your other citations); (c) mail
the person a copy of your article; and (d) include a low-key, one-page
cover letter that says something intelligent about their work.  If your
work and theirs could be seen to overlap, include a concise statement of
the relationship you see between them.  The tone of this letter counts.
Project ordinary self-confidence.  Refrain from praising or fawning or
self-deprecating or making a big deal out of it.  And don't drop dead if
you don't get a reply right away.  Anybody who isn't wholly egotistical
or seriously famous will appreciate your taking the trouble to write them.
In my experience, most everyone in the world of research is desperate for
someone to actually understand what they're saying.  If they don't reply,
the most likely reason is laziness.  (Warning: Do not use citations as a
form of flattery.  This sort of thing fools nobody.  Instead, think of a
research paper as a kind of open letter, with the people you cite included
in its addressees.  Research is a conversation, and your paper is a way of
starting new conversations with people in your area.  When in doubt, get

(4) Meet this person face-to-face at a professional meeting.  Unless you
really know what you're doing, you should keep the conversation to safe,
professional topics.  Ask them intelligent questions about their work.
Ask them about the people they work with.  Figure out who you know (that
is, professionally) in common.  If other people, projects, or laboratories
come up in the conversation, say whatever positive things you honestly
have to say about them — avoid criticism and negativity.  If the person is
significantly more powerful than you then the prospect of this conversation
will probably make you uneasy.  That's okay.  Concentrate on meeting
people who don't intimidate you and your courage will grow.  Your single
most important audience is actually not the power-holders of your field
but rather the best people of your own generation.  These people share
your situation and will usually be happy to talk to you.  Nonetheless, you
should always give full and respectful attention to anybody who approaches
you,  no matter how junior or marginal they might be.  If you find yourself
talking to a space cadet or a jerk, have compassion.  It's up to you
which relationships to pursue in depth, but everyone you meet shapes your
reputation — and justly so.  It really is imperative that you conduct your
professional activities ethically — and not just within the bounds of a
legalistic interpretation of ethical principles, but with an active and
creative solicitude for the well-being of the individuals and communities
around you.  You don't have to be shy or let people walk on you, but if you
get ahead at the expense of others then it will catch up with you — in your
heart if not immediately in your paycheck.

(5) The next step, I'm afraid, depends on the hierarchy.  If someone is
qualitatively more senior than you, your goal is simply to get on their
radar screen — one chat per year is plenty.  (That's mostly because they
already have a full network and have begun to reckon relevance differently
from you.)  If someone is more or less equal to you in the hierarchy, and
if they still strike you as relevant, worthwhile, and trustworthy, it will
probably be time to exchange pre-publication drafts of new articles.  Again,
keep it low-key: pass along a draft that you're ready to circulate and
invite "any comments you might have".  Upon receiving such a draft yourself,
take the trouble to write out a set of comments on it.  Make sure your
comments are intelligent, thoughtful, constructive, and useful.  If you are
uncomfortable writing critical comments, frame them with positive comments
("this is obviously an important topic and you've made some valuable
observations"), develop a lexicon of hedges ("I'm not clear on ...",
"maybe"), emphasize what's possible instead of what's wrong ("maybe you can
build on this by ...", "perhaps you can further clarify this by ..."), and
keep to specifics ("how does this step follow?" as opposed to "woolly and
vague").  This draft-exchanging ritual is tremendously important, but nobody
ever seems to teach you how it's done.  When in doubt, ask for help.  And if
somebody comments a draft for you, thank them and be certain to reciprocate
(and don't forget to include them in the acknowledgements section of the
finished paper).  Doing so, even once, will almost certainly cement a
long-term professional relationship — a new member of your network.

(6) Follow up.  Keep coming up with simple ways to be useful to the people
in your network.  A few times a year is plenty.  Pass things along to them.
Mention their work to other people.  Plug them in your talks.  Include them
in things.  Get your department or laboratory to invite them to speak.  Put
them up when they come to town.  And invent other helpful things to do that
nobody ever thought of before.  None of this is mandatory, of course, but
it helps.  And I can't repeat this often enough: keep it low-key.  Never,
ever pressure anybody into anything.  Never heap so much unsolicited help
on someone that they feel crowded or obligated.  Don't complain.  And
furthermore, make sure you're doing all this stuff from courtesy and
respect, and not as any kind of phony politicking — people can spot phonies
a mile off.  Build relationships with personal friends outside of work so
you won't be unconsciously trying to get professional contacts to play roles
in your personal life (for example, the role of sounding board for your
troubles).  If you don't hear from someone for a while, let it ride.  If
you feel yourself getting obsessive about the process, go talk it out with
someone you regard as wise.

This step-by-step procedure is obviously oversimplified and somewhat rigid.
And it omits many topics, such as the claims that effective networking
makes on numerous other activities: giving talks, mixing at receptions,
formulating research results, choosing where and when to publish, organizing
workshops and journal issues, and so forth.  Nonetheless, some basic points
about the networking process should be clear enough:

 * It takes time — you have to be patient and let it happen.

 * It focuses on particular individuals and particular relationships.

 * It produces bonds of reciprocal obligation through the exchange of favors.

 * It calls for a significant but manageable up-front investment.

 * It requires you to cultivate a realistic awareness of power.

 * It involves a variety of communication media.

 * It forces you to develop communication skills in each of these media.

These statements, of course, aren't etched in stone.  You should keep
reflecting on your professional life as you go along, continually trying to
come up with a better way of explaining it to yourself.  No doubt I've left
out some important dimensions of the process.

Having surveyed the basics of networking and professional relationships,
it's time to consider the role that electronic communication can play.
The most important thing is to employ electronic media consciously and
deliberately as part of a larger strategy for your career.  It's okay to
use the net in other parts of your life: hunting for people to correspond
with, organizing political movements, joining discussions of sex and
child-rearing, and so forth.  But so long as you have your professional hat
on, every message you exchange on the network should be part of the process
of finding, building, and maintaining professional relationships.  I cannot
emphasize this strongly enough, because electronic mail seems to provide
endless temptations to the contrary.  I succumb to these temptations
regularly, and I invariably regret it.  They include:

 * The temptation to react.  Most on-line discussion groups consist
largely of people reacting to things they've seen, acting on impulse
without thinking through their own agenda in the situation.  (One kind of
reacting is called "flaming", but many other kinds of reacting are equally
insidious.)  E-mail encourages this kind of reactive behavior by making
it easy to respond to a discussion with only a few rapid keystrokes.  Keep
your cool.  The more impulsive you are, the more you're using the network
to find friends as opposed to colleagues, and the greater your unmet needs
for affirmation and attention, the more you will be led into reaction.  One
slip-up will not bring your career to a halt, but you should definitely be
aware of the phenomenon.

 * The temptation to pretense.  Electronic communication affords the
illusion of semi-anonymity: since people only know you by your mailbox
address, you tend to lose the inhibitions that normally keep you from
pronouncing on matters that you are not really informed about.  The chatty
informality of most e-mail discussion groups, which is certainly capable
of being a force for good in the world, nonetheless also tends to wear down
these inhibitions.  Besides, everyone else is doing it.  But pretending to
know things is just as bad an idea on e-mail as it is face-to-face.  Keep
focused on your own unique professional contributions and let the random
chatter slide.  Beware: many people revile this injunction against pretense,
based on a false conception of community and a misguided fear of elitism.
I am certainly not promoting the reign of experts here; I am simply applying
to electronic communication the everyday injunction to know what you're
talking about.

 * The temptation to paranoia.  Along with your own anonymity goes
the frequent difficulty of knowing who exactly is receiving your
discussion-group messages.  As a result, many people just listen in,
terrified to say anything for fear that they will be dumped on by powerful
experts.  This problem is not exclusive to e-mail, of course, but it is
quite real.  The solution is to focus on the careful, step-by-step process
of approaching individuals, leaving group participation until you feel more
comfortable — which you will, eventually.

 * The temptation to get overwhelmed.  It's easy to sign up for everything
that sounds interesting, or to pursue dozens of people in every direction,
only to find yourself swamped with messages to read and favors to return.
If you're getting more than about twenty messages a day in your mailbox then
you should probably review your goals and prune back accordingly.

 * The temptation to get addicted.  Addiction means getting overwhelmed on
purpose.  It's tremendously common.  The test is, can I just decide to give
it a rest for a few days?

 * The temptation to waste time.  Exploring the net is a tremendous way to
avoid writing your thesis.  It goes on forever these days, and you can waste
a great deal of time playing with it.  Unfortunately, random exploration
will rarely yield network information resources that are actually useful to
your real career goals.  Useful information is always bound up with useful
people.  Therefore, your explorations of the network will most usefully be
guided by your goals and structured by the search for people to add to your
network.  If you really do care about on-line information resources, develop
a good relationship with a librarian.  Librarians are almost uniformly
wonderful people who enjoy helping you find things, whether on the net or
elsewhere.  (If you're shy about asking people to do things for you, instead
tell them what you're trying to accomplish and ask them for advice about how
to do it yourself and for suggestions about who might be able to help you.)

 * The temptation to blame e-mail for your problems.  If you're a beginner
with electronic communication, you will probably have a few mishaps at some
point: getting put down by somebody, acting on an impulse that you later
regret, inadvertently sending a message to the wrong person, violating
the obscure protocols of professional communication, getting overwhelmed
with marginally worthwhile messages, finding yourself trapped in long,
complicated correspondences, or whatever.  When this happens, you might
be moved to blame the medium; you'll find yourself saying that e-mail is
dangerous or worthless or overwhelming.  But ask yourself: do similar things
happen in group meetings or conferences or over the telephone or in paper
mail?  E-mail has its shortcomings to be sure, but it's just a tool like any
other.  You'll have to learn how to use it, what to use it for, and when not
to use it.

Of course, a little messing around won't kill you.  And it's just as bad
to go to the opposite extreme and become a compulsive machine for scoring
points and making connections.  What matters is understanding whatever
you're doing within the bigger picture of your life and career.

So, assuming you've been duly admonished against these temptations, what ARE
the most constructive uses of electronic communication?  Let's review the
six-step networking process I outlined above and look for opportunities to
use electronic mail to ease the various steps:

(1) Know your goals.  Electronic mail can't help you much here.  Indeed,
you'll need to make sure that your goals are not defined narrowly in
terms of electronic mail.  Once you've begun corresponding with people you
consider wise, you can begin to seek advice from them.  Asking for advice is
an art in itself, and other things being equal it's best done face-to-face,
but once you know someone fairly well on a face-to-face basis you can move
some of the discussion to e-mail.

(2) Identify some relevant people.  Listening in on discussion groups
is one way of finding relevant people, especially the ones who aren't so
famous.  If someone in a discussion impresses you, fight the temptation to
approach them right away.  (It's obviously okay to answer routine functional
requests on the order of, "does anyone know ...?", provided you simply
answer the request and leave the networking for later.)  Instead, consult
your library's card catalog and periodical indexes (which are probably
on-line anyway), look the person up, read a sample of what they've written,
and proceed with the next step.  Only if you cannot find any relevant
publications should you consider sending them a concise note saying,
"what you said about XXX is interesting to me because of YYY; if you have
an article on the subject ready to distribute then I'd much appreciate a
copy".  Having listened in on a discussion group for a while and observed
its customs and conventions, you might then consider contributing something
yourself.  Don't just react or chat.  Instead, write a really intelligent,
self-respecting, unshowy, low-key, less-than-one-page message that makes
a single, clearly stated point about a topic that's relevant to both their
interests and your own, preferably but not necessarily as a contribution to
an ongoing discussion.  Sit on this message overnight to make sure you're
not just reacting to something or repeating a familiar point that happens
to make people in your community feel good.  If you're feeling uneasy
or compulsive about it then get comments from someone close to you whose
judgement you trust.  Having thus refined your message, contribute it to
the discussion group and see what happens.  If nothing happens, don't sweat
it.  If it starts a discussion then listen respectfully, constructively
acknowledge all halfways worthwhile responses, and be sure you're not just
reacting to things.  This process might flush out some people worth adding
to your network.  Or it might not.  In any case it will get your name
out and will, with remarkable efficiency, establish your reputation as an
intelligent and thoughtful person.  Remember: don't bother doing any of this
until you've written up some work and are ready to actually start building
your network.

(3) Court these people individually.  In the old days, the article and
letter you sent to approach someone were both printed on paper.  Should you
use electronic mail instead?  I actually recommend using paper.  At least
you shouldn't use electronic media just because they're fun.  For one thing,
paper is much easier to flip through quickly or to read on the subway.
It's also much easier to write comments on.  Use your judgement.  If you do
decide to employ electronic mail for this purpose, use just as much care as
you would on paper.  Remember that first impressions count.  And don't try
to use e-mail for the get-to-know-you type of chatting that should logically
follow at this point.  Instead ...

(4) Meet this person face-to-face.  I believe firmly, despite all the
talk about "virtual reality" and "electronic communities", that electronic
communication does not make face-to-face interaction obsolete.  Instead,
as I said at the outset, you should think of e-mail and face-to-face
interaction as part of a larger ecology of communication media, each with
its own role to play.  In particular, I honestly believe that you do not
really have a professional relationship with someone until you have spoken
with them face-to-face at length, preferably in a relaxed setting over a
social beverage.  Call me old-fashioned if you will, but make sure that any
aversion you might have to face-to-face interaction isn't based on inertia
or fear.  Inertia and fear are normal feelings, but they have to be worked
through and faced.  Having said that, the availability of e-mail will
nonetheless bring subtle changes to the ecology of communication in your
field.  This is particularly true with regard to the telephone, whose uses
change considerably in e-mail-intensive communities — so much so, in fact,
that many people nearly stop using the phone altogether (or never learn
how) and try to use e-mail for unsuitable purposes like asking discussion
groups for information that could have been gotten more easily through
resources listed in the front of the phone book.  (It's amazing what you
can accomplish over the telephone once you learn how.)  But the role of
face-to-face interaction will change as well, particularly since many
kinds of routine work can be conducted almost as easily at a distance
electronically as in formal meetings face-to-face.  Electronic communication
might even allow face-to-face interaction to shift its balance from its
practical to its ritual functions.  In any case, the general lesson is
to pay attention to the relationships among media so you can use the right
tool for each job.  One more note: when you go to a professional meeting,
take a minute to flip through your e-mail correspondence and make a list
(ideally on paper) of all the people you've "met" on-line who might attend
the conference.  Few things are more embarrassing than drawing a blank when
someone at a conference approaches you and tries to pick up a conversation
begun on e-mail.

(5) Exchange drafts.  Once again, you should decide whether to use paper or
electronic mail to exchange drafts of articles.  My own practice, usually,
is to highlight passages and write brief comments on a paper copy of an
article, take a moment to clear my mind and ask myself what the overall
point was and what my overall constructive response is, and then use e-mail
to send the author longer and more intelligible versions of those comments.
Since I do this quickly after reading the paper (within a couple of days)
while my impressions are still fresh in mind, the resulting e-mail messages
are limited primarily by how fast I can type.  As a result, they can be
unusually helpful even though they don't actually take that long to prepare.
If necessary I'll also offer to paper-mail the author the marked-up draft
for the sake of minor proofreading details that are too much trouble to type
in.  Notice the fairly complex interactions between paper and electronic
forms of communication.  You may find different practices more convenient;
the point is to be aware that you have a choice.  I even know people who
tape-record their comments on a paper while they're reading it and then send
the author the tape.  Keep your real goals in mind and be creative.

(6) Follow up.  This is the one area where e-mail makes a qualitative
difference.  Once you've established a professional relationship with
someone, e-mail provides a convenient way to maintain a steady, low-key
background of useful two-way interactions.  You might wish to forward
things to people (abstracts, interesting messages, conference announcements,
press releases, book reviews, whatever) depending on their interests.  Don't
overdo it and pay attention to whether the gesture is being reciprocated.
After a (long) while you might consider building an electronic mailing list
of people who share your interests and would like to get interesting stuff
forwarded to them routinely — including, of course, your own abstracts
and shorter papers.  Never add anybody to such a list (or any list) without
asking them, and never pressure them or make a big deal out of it.  E-mail
is also obviously useful for a wide variety of other purposes, for example
scheduling and organizing professional events.  Make sure that some purpose
is actually being served; don't engage in e-mail correspondence simply for
the sake of it.  And don't do any of this stuff with someone unless you've
gone through the previous five steps and established a real, functioning
relationship with them.  Finally, double-check that you're keeping track
of the difference between a professional relationship and a personal
relationship.  A good test is, would I call this person up on a Friday
night and suggest going to a movie?  Even then, give any such transition in
the relationship a little time to sink in before you start to rely on it.

Let me conclude with some comments about community-building.  Electronic
networks provide a number of technical means for assembling groups of people
into semi-structured forms of communication.  Most of them are modeled on
paper-mail mailing lists, though many people have been experimenting with
other mechanisms.  And no doubt some of these mechanisms will prove useful.
My point here, though, is to ensure that you view community-building in
a broad context.  A community is made of people, not computers.  It is
tempting to simply announce a new mailing list, gather lots of names, and
hope that something good happens.  I've done this myself.  Unfortunately, it
rarely works very well.  Even when you do start feeling good about some of
the interactions you've had on the net, human possibility really does run
deeper than abstract network-interaction is likely to afford any time soon.
In short, I see no substitute for the hard human work of building community
one person at a time, on the basis of openly explored shared interests,
through interactions in a variety of media.  Communities built in this
fashion hold together because they are fastened with the real glue of human
relationship, not just the technical glue of codes and files.  This is not
to say that electronic media are useless.  Quite the contrary, I've just
explained several ways in which e-mail can accelerate the already existing
process of building professional relationships.  And just as relationships
are conducted through a variety of media, so are communities.  A community
has to meet in person (preferably somewhere nice), eat and drink as a
group (preferably in a memorable way), discuss various formulations of the
shared vision that brings them together (without trying to force a false
consensus), engage in concrete collective projects (editing books, running
workshops), and so forth, and suitably constructed electronic media will
often have a useful role to play in these activities.  This is not the
place to explore this process in detail, but I hope the first principles are

 * Cultivate an understanding of the social logic of community-building.

 * Use electronic media as part of a larger ecology of communication.

 * Try out new mechanisms, but don't make them substitute for human contact.

 * Consciously improve and evolve existing ways of doing things.

 * Let it take time.

You may be overwhelmed at this point by the degree of structure I seem to be
placing on your electronic interactions.  But while these guidelines are not
set in stone, neither are they arbitrary.  They are simply an application
to electronic communications of the larger, preexisting social logic of
professional communities.  I've restricted my attention to one kind of
community, namely research communities based on publication.  But every
other kind of community has its own social logic and therefore its own
particular structured ways of using various media.  If you don't like the
structures you encounter, please go right ahead and start changing them --
just make sure you're changing things down here on earth, amidst your actual
relationships with actual people, and not in an abstract technological
head-space.  If the structures do sometimes seem arbitrary, that's because
we're all accustomed to thinking of electronic media as a world unto
themselves, sealed off from the ordinary corporeal world.  Where did we get
this idea of cyber-reality as a wholly separate sphere?  We got it from the
fantasy system that underlies a great deal of technical work: the masculine
transcendentalism that identifies technology — and especially computers --
with a millenial escape from imperfections and bodies and the accidents of
culture and history.  By learning to use electronic media wisely, we do more
than help our own careers — we also contribute to a vision of community
that acknowledges human life as it actually is.

Appendix: Some references on networking.  First, here are some general
guides to professional networking, without any special reference to
electronic mail:

Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas, Power Networking, Austin: Mountain Harbour,
1992.  This is the best all-around book on the subject.  It abstracts a long
list of guidelines that apply just about as much to research people as to
the corporate people who are their main audience.

Susan Roane, The Secrets of Savvy Networking, New York: Warner, 1993.  An
adequate book on networking, less sophisticated and narrower in application
than Fisher and Vilas' book but much more widely available.

Tom Jackson, Guerrilla Tactics in the New Job Market, second edition, New
York: Bantam, 1991.  A truly inspired book on the networking that's involved
in finding a job through the "hidden job market" of hiring referrals.

Joan M. Brandon, ed, Networking: A Trainer's Manual, Amherst: Community
Education Resource Center (225 Furcolo Hall, School of Education, University
of Massachusetts, Amherst MA 01003), 1982.  Developed for people in
community education, this is the most conceptually sophisticated book on the
list.  Last I heard, it was available by mail-order from the above address
for $9.25.

The modern project of articulating guidelines for networking originates
(more or less) with feminist authors of the 1980's.  Their books still hold
some interest:

Carol Kleiman, Women's Networks: The Complete Guide to Getting a Better
Job, Advancing Your Career, and Feeling Great as a Woman Through Networking,
New York: Lippincott and Crowell, 1980.  Aimed at women professionals and
executives who wish to set up relatively formal networking organizations.

Ann Boe and Betty B. Youngs, Is Your "Net" Working?: A Complete Guide to
Building Contacts and Career Visibility, New York: Wiley, 1989.  A later
book in the same spirit, more ambitious but less successful than the others,
based on (fictional?) stories about mistakes people make in their networking

Betty Lehan Harragan, Games Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship
for Women, New York: Rawson, 1977.  Although not centrally concerned with
networking, I mention this book because of its cultural influence as the
first hard-hitting how-the-world-really-works book for professional women.
Its ideology, which has shaped many feminist discussions of networking since
then, reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of the feminism of that
era.  One of the weaknesses is its inattention to social class; it explains
that men learn how the world work through playing football, even though this
would predict that working-class men would be as successful in business as
their wealthier brothers.

And here are a few references for business-oriented literature on
contemporary patterns of networking:

Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler, Connections: New Ways of Working in the
Networked Organization, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.  A general study of
organizational uses of electronic mail.

Bernard Michael Gilroy, Networking in Multinational Enterprises: The
Importance of Strategic Alliances, Columbia: University of South Carolina
Press, 1993.  The economics behind ongoing changes in the workings of global
companies, in which the boundaries of the enterprise are less clear and
employees' own networks have increasing economic consequences.

Howard E. Aldrich and Mary Ann von Glinow, Personal networks and
infrastructure development, in David V. Gibson, George Kozmetsky,
and Raymond W. Smilor, eds, The Technopolis Phenomenon: Smart Cities,
Fast Systems, Global Networks, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992.
Approaches to rationalizing and managing the networking process through
social psychology, network mapping, and systematic development of networks.

Acknowledgements.  This essay has been improved by comments from Robert
Barger, Harry Collins, Paul Dourish, Rebecca Henderson, Marty Hiller, Yvonne
Rogers, Susan Sterne, Jozsef Toth, and Jeremy Wertheimer.

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