Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1


co-operates, of course. Some senders seem to be so little concerned
with the status of their contribution that they may not bother to
title their message at all – which therefore appears in such a form
as. But the majority of contributors are more single-
minded about their interaction. They want others to read their
which will ensure that their message is related to the other relevant
messages in a thread. This is an important difference from the role
of the subject in e-mails. When an e-mail comes in, it will very likely
be read, or at least opened, simply because it is there – often with no
particular attention being paid to the subject line.^20 The identity of
the sender is typically far more relevant than the content; indeed, in
most cases the person is known to the receiver, and a personalized,
unidirectional message is anticipated. The common observation is
‘Ah, so-and-so has replied’ or ‘There’s a message from so-and-so’,
and not ‘Ah, here’s an interesting topic’ or ‘That topic has come
up again.’ You can avoid using the e-mail subject-line at all, and
many people do, or (feeling obliged to put something in, because
the software has prompted them) insert something vacuous, such
as ‘various’ or ‘message’. This would be totally self-negating in a
mailing list, where people on the list will only be motivated to read
a message if they feel the topic is of interest to them. And in such
situations as classroom conferences, the same pressures obtain. In
these cases, the only means senders have of influencing others to
read their messages is through their titles.
that they take on some of the character of a greeting. We would not
expect a message titled ‘Response to Jeff’ to begin ‘Dear Jeff’ or ‘Hi
Jeff’. The link has already been made. In any case, the message is
not solely to Jeff; it is to the group as a whole. Jeff is simply the hook
on which to hang a particular response. Indeed, once a personal
name gets into a title, it becomes a theme in its own right: a whole
sequence of messages may come to be titled ‘Re response to Jeff’. Jeff

(^20) There are certain exceptions – such as a virus alert in which people are warned to look
out for a message with a particular subject line. Also, many e-mail users become adept
at filtering out messages which contain distinctive typography (p. 97).

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