Why Are You Reading This Essay?

a kind of journal entry for 2/1, really
I'm writing this very briefly before I go back to thrash at the first set of distance learning essays. I appear to be doing something elusively stupid which causes them not to mount properly.

Of course, by the time you (whoever you are) read this, in all likelihood the problem will be solved and you (whoever you are) will wonder why I bothered to favor the Web with this documentation of my frustration when this is supposed to be an essay about distance learning.

Glad you asked--I'll tell you why.

Most people in the class--including me--have been thinking primarily of the videoconferencing as the "distance learning" component of this class. But that's not the half of it. The Web site is in some ways much more of a "distance learning" element than the videoconferencing. People who aren't from either Michigan or Berkeley can access significant parts of it and observe what we're doing. They can read our essays (and "they" may be you, reader) and some of Howard's work.

These points may seem obvious--but are they? In reading the first set of essays, I noticed that some people (myself included) addressed Howard. Some addressed the Berkeley students. Very few, if any, "addressed the world." But as the protesters chanted, in some sense "the whole world's watching" --and the whole world, by extension, (no, not by Netscape extension) knows when I screw up.

Who are you? Why are you reading this essay?

Are you one of my friends from SILS or the Net? Are you a Berkeley student? Are you a colleague of Howard's perusing "his" Web site? Are you Howard?

The issue, in case you haven't guessed, is audience.

More later.

All right, it's later. Five hours later, to be precise. As I thought, I've managed to solve at least the most pressing crises. Nothing looks quite the way I want it to look, but I suppose that's par for the course. I don't look the way I want to look on the video monitor, so I suppose it's only fitting.

I am much more aware of my audience in this context than I am, for instance, when I'm working on my homepage. I think this is because the Berkeley students are paradoxically both distant enough to be a good stand-in for "the world," and close enough for me to be aware of them, and to think about them reading my pages. I can process the idea of Kathy from Berkeley reading these words (apologies if the name is spelled wrong) -- whereas I can't process the idea of Some Random Person finding my pages on a whim and looking at them.

I have more questions all the time. How do we define "distance," or worse yet, "learning"? What am I providing, and to whom?

Sara Ryan

last modified 2/1/95