July 1996

Root Page of Article: Gender and Computer Networking, by Gérard Martin

Negotiating Possibilities

Weeks passed as both teachers and students were left to negotiate the possibilities. In patterns consistent with phases one through three of Ferdi Serim's observations, use of the Internet as a vehicle of data transport became the prevailing metaphor and model of Internet use. Following phases that included "uncertainty," "insight" and "routine", browser-generated electronic mail was then regularly used for the purpose of requesting more information. In effect, electrons were frequently exchanged for atoms as commercial web-sites began to deliver literature and product samples to students through postal mail. However, Ferdi Serim's description of phase four of "rising expectations" has not yet fully been realized; nor the "letting go" of paper-use. "Evangelism and partnerships" furthered by electronic means have not yet developed. Instead, by the end of the Fall 1995 semester, late-breaking tendencies associated with browsing--entirely unanticipated by Serim--had begun to establish themselves.

Because the possibilities are ever so quickly expanding, it should be considered normal that some of them are undesirable; the mildest example being the advertisement-style homepage and the most extreme example being raw language and pornographic material. Somewhere in between, there was always the potential for more casual distraction or surfing out of bounds of one's assignment subject matter. It really was just a matter of time before network activity would be censured. The restrictions took three forms; one of which was in place from the very beginning.

  • The Internet as a supervised activity--surveillance required
  • Electronic Mail as a privileged activity--limited e-mail service
  • Third-Party web-site filtration--SurfWatch® pornography block

The Internet was primarily limited to classroom use and project-by-project arrangement basis. Electronic Evangelism did not appear to be a strong component in the program. Electronic mail was encouraged so long as the return message passed through a teacher. Software was established to block out sites determined to be pornographic by SurfWatch® , a company specializing in assisting parents and legal guardians identify and control the release of material considered to be unsuitable for minors.

The metaphor of Internet use that appears to have surfaced the strongest is that of a superintended library. Difficult is the question of how much to attribute to the gender-specific nature of the schooling and how much to absorb within the normal expectations of guardianship and scholastic direction. Nevertheless, some of the basic characteristics of the Internet can be explored within the confines of a brief look at Jungian anima and animus. --

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