By: Stephen M. Marson, Ph.D., ACBSW, Dennis Cogswell, Ed.D., and Marshall L. Smith, Ph.D.
Fall 1994, Vol. 1, No. 2
Editor's Note: This article, which first appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER in Fall 1994, was the first technology article we published. Much has changed, technology-wise, since the original publication of this article. Some of the specific examples given are now outdated.
Commonly Asked Questions About Electronic Communication and Computer Networking
by Stephen M. Marson, Ph.D., ACBSW, Dennis Cogswell, Ed.D., and Marshall L. Smith, Ph.D.
After instructing social work faculty, practitioners, and students about the use of e-mail and computer networking, a pattern of recurring questions and themes appears. The following include the answers to these commonly asked questions. They are divided into general categories:
1) E-mail: Introduction;
2) E-mail: What can it do?;
3) Technical Questions about E-mail;
4) E-mail Etiquette;
5) Networking; and
6) Common Jargon.
The questions range from simple to advanced. They can facilitate self-teaching. After you have practiced, these answers can be used to assist others who are learning computer networking for the first time. A cautionary note: The technology of electronic communications is rapidly changing. An answer to a question in September of 1994 may not be totally correct in February of 1995. However, the general principle will remain the same.
E-Mail: An Introduction
1. What is e-mail and how can it be a learning tool or process?
"E-mail" is an abbreviation for "electronic mail." It actually is a modern way of using writing to communicate. Linguists see individuals using language in four ways: to listen, to talk, to read and to write. Writing, which is the process one employs via e-mail, makes use of certain personal learning strategies that involve people in thought production and expression. In many ways, writing can be a more powerful source of learning than oral expression.
Social work educators have utilized logs or reaction journals for social work training since the turn of the century. Electronic mail is a powerful extension of this tradition.
2. Isn't electronic mail rather impersonal? Isn't the human touch lost?
This is a frequent concern of many newcomers to e-mail. For most regular users, the loss of communication obtained in face-to-face communication through body language and tone of voice is made up through richness in language used. Few regular users of e-mail complain about it being too impersonal. In fact, many find it to be more personal.
3. Isn't e-mail one dimensional?
It is. One can't read body language or listen to tone of voice in the same way. However, that also tends to force the recipient to pay more attention to the content of the message. When one receives an e-mail message, one doesn't know the race of the individual, the age, whether a handicap exists or many other characteristics that interfere with much of human communication. With e-mail, these other variables are downplayed in the communication process. The content of the message becomes the focus.
4. What recommended readings are most helpful for e-mail?
Following is a list of magazines that address e-mail issues:
- BBS Callers Digest
- Boardwatch Magazine
- CompuServe Magazine
- Internet World
- Magazine Networking
- Connectivity Online Access
Jim Milles has prepared a bibliography that is constantly updated. The updated version can be retrieved by e-mailing him at MILLESJG@SLUVCA.SLU.EDU.
Following are some important titles:
- Dern, Daniel P. (1994). The Internet Guide for New Users. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Gilster, Paul. (1993). The Internet Navigator. New York: John Wiley.
- Hahn, Harley and Rick Stout. (1993). The Internet Complete Reference. Berkeley: Osborne McGraw-Hill.
- Krol, E. (1992). The Whole Internet: User's Guide and Catalog. Sebast-apol, CA: O'Reilly and Associates.
- LaQuey, T. (1992). The Internet Companion: A Beginner's Guide to Global Networking. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Levine, J. R. and Baroudi, C. (1993). The Internet for Dummies. San Mateo, California: IDG Books.
5. I think that the use of e-mail is merely a fad. What makes you think otherwise?
One of the authors of this article was sharply criticized by students for "forcing" them to use e-mail. "Why?" the student asked in an angry tone. The author read aloud a passage from Mary Richmond's book, Social Diagnosis, published in 1919, in which she encouraged social workers to use the new turn-of-the-century technology -- the telephone. However, he replaced the word "telephone" with "e-mail." Like the telephone, e-mail is here to stay. Entry level social workers can take the lead role in introducing electronic communication in social work practice.