TO "E" or NOT TO "E"
by Deborah Tihanyi, Toronto, ON
In the days-before-the-Internet
(or DBTI), it was "paper or plastic?" and piles of junk mail at your doorstep,
hand- written memos at the office and ink-stained fingers after reading
the daily newspaper, not to mention printers and copiers working overtime
in the mass distribution of any/all of the above. Now, we have listservs,
web sites and yes, spam in our mailboxes (which, coincidentally, one can
order--along with other edible delicacies--via the web). We are living,
I am told, in the new and improved Paperless World: no more piles of unwanted
paper in the recycling box, no more journals and newsletters cluttering
up the bookshelves. Well, in theory. I still have at least a few trees'
worth of loose-leaf floating about my office. And--despite the fact that
if I acquire one more book I'll have to move--I am proud of my full set
of Theatre Research in Canada / Recherches théâtrales au Canada.
Still, there is no doubt
that the Internet has changed the way we go about our work. E-mail allows
for a kind of contact between colleagues in the discipline unheard of in
the DBTI. And research has certainly taken on a new form, what with electronic
search engines, on-line journals and topic-specific web sites.
But change is not without
its pitfalls. A great deal of suspicion surrounds any Internet-based material,
and authority and quality seem to always be in question. The world wide
web is a free-for-all, where anyone and everyone can air their intellectual
laundry (dirty or otherwise). However, this alone should not condemn the
Internet as a research tool; after all, one must learn to question all
source material, printed or not. When was the last time The National Enquirer
was cited in a scholarly article? (Wait-- that may not be a good example,
considering the dearth of research into popular culture . . . but I digress
. . .)
As a former Managing Editor
of TRIC / RTAC, I was part of the initiative to get the journal online.
We now have an interactive web site for TRIC / RTAC, with searchable databases
of all abstracts, and, fairly soon, all back issues available to subscribers.
As I recall, before finalizing the current format, we polled subscribers,
asking them--amongst other things--whether they would find the electronic
format of the journal useful, and whether or not they would pay for the
privilege. While the response was not overwhelming, those subscribers we
did hear from seem to prefer the old-style, print format--availability
of an electronic version notwithstanding.
I understand this sentiment.
After all, it would be a little difficult to read the journal in the bathtub,
or on the bus, in its electronic form (but that day, I imagine, is coming
soon). There is nothing quite like feeling the pages between your fingers,
flipping back and forth to read the notes at the end of an article. And
yet, I would much sooner search the abstracts on the TRIC / RTAC web site
for a particular reference with a mere few keystrokes, than leaf through
almost forty separate journals in the hope of getting a "hit."
I go back and forth on this
issue--as I imagine most of us do. I love the relative speed and convenience
of net research, but still relish the tactile experience of hunting through
boxes of archival material. A day rarely goes by when I don't check my
e-mail, and yet I periodically cancel my subscriptions to various listservs
because I can't deal with the backlog of messages they (inevitably) entail.
And, while e-meetings make already hectic schedules more manageable, I
often find myself missing the more "personal" touch of the telephone.
I still routinely check
the "paper" box to receive my copy of the Association's newsletter. In
the meantime, though, a faster modem would be nice . . .
Bulletin / Newsletter 24.1