- Respond Now! E-mail, Acceleration, and a Pedagogy of Patience
We live in a world of invisibility and speed. No longer shackled by cables, cords, or wires, we move unhindered through invisible streams of data that surround and traverse our homes, workplaces, and bodies. Time and space diminish as satellite dishes the size of dinner plates and cell phones barely larger than matchbooks convert invisible signals, beamed from elsewhere seconds before, into picture and sound. The "speeding up" of contemporary Western culture has preoccupied a number of philosophers and social commentators. Jean Baudrillard (1994) refers to this phenomenon in The Illusion of the End as the "implosion of the time/space axis." Anthony Giddens (1990) speaks in The Consequences of Modernity of a "collapse of time/space coordinates," and, similarly, Manuel Castells (1996) considers the perception of "time-space compression." Philosopher Paul Virilio (who discusses speed, acceleration, and movement throughout his work) observes that "we now live in an era with no delays" (quoted in Erikson 2001: 51)—a sentiment shared by Thomas Hylland Erikson, who discusses the "acceleration" of modern culture in Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age (2001), and James Gleick, who addresses the speeding up of modern culture and the compression of distance in Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (1999). David Shenk (1999: 41) takes a slightly different tack, in The End of Patience: Cautionary Notes on the Information Age, when he observes that "quickness has disappeared in our culture. We now only experience degrees of slowness." [End Page 365]
Although commentators have observed and, to varying extents, decried the increasing velocity of contemporary life, the implications of this acceleration of modern culture for effective pedagogy have received virtually no scrutiny. How and when does learning take place in a society "where it becomes nearly impossible to think a thought that is more than a couple inches long" and in which "the unhindered and massive flow of information . . . is about to fill all the gaps" (Erikson 2001: vii, 2)? How does responsible pedagogy address new habits of thought that emerge from the compression of time and space and the expectation that everyone should be available all the time? What is the pedagogical response to the speeding up of contemporary life? It seems imperative to consider pedagogical practice in light of such seismic shifts in the lived experience of culture.
At the forefront of this increasing velocity of the world is e-mail, a mode of communication that allows for the near instantaneous transmission of information and seems to demand near instantaneous response. Given the ubiquity of e-mail in contemporary culture and the fact that students and faculty today do a substantial amount of work and writing in digital environments, it is curious that few writing instructors—or teachers in other disciplines for that matter—integrate "netiquette" or digital writing conventions into their classrooms. In this essay, I will focus on electronic communication and examine the role of e-mail in producing specific types of interpersonal discourse between faculty and students. I first will consider e-mail message content and style, with an emphasis on the phenomenon of "flaming," in light of both intrinsic aspects of e-mail technology and learned conventions of usage. I will then turn my attention to messages from students to instructors that are ungrammatical, unreasonable in their demands, and/or abusive. Finally, I will consider classroom strategies to grapple with the "wraithlike nature of electronic communications" (Dery 1994: 1). It ultimately will be proposed that responsible pedagogy is a "pedagogy of patience"—pedagogy that both exercises and teaches patience. In a world of collapsing time, it may well be that among the most valuable things we can teach our students is when and how to wait.
Liminal Discourse and the Flame
Many of today's undergraduates have never known a world without e-mail or personal computers. This fact alone constitutes a significant difference between today's students and university faculty who can remember a world without either and who have had to adjust and tailor expectations and practices to accommodate new and rapidly changing technologies. [End Page 366]