In recent weeks there has been an interesting discussion on several of the e-lists relevant to our field about whether, in fact, the e-lists are now dying. Andrew Bernhard has led the charge on this one and today posts a great summary post, also looking to the future. His answer to his original question is that the e-lists are not dying but that they are going through a period of transition. If you have not been following the discussion, you may be one of the reasons for the downturn on a lot of the lists. Here's the link to Andrew's post as it appears on Xtalk:
Are e-lists dying? (Final Post)
Andrew argues that many of the e-lists are in crisis, something he demonstrates by looking at figures on the number of posts, mapping a steady decline. But he suggests that the e-lists are not dying but are in transition, and there may still be a future for them.
I don't think that that the answers to this interesting question are straightforward, but I know that for myself and other fellow bloggers, blogging is one of the reasons for the changes in the e-lists. Many of us prefer to blog than to write an email. If I were to track my own e-list participation, I reckon it would have been much higher before I began blogging in 2003.
But I don't think that the growth of blogging is the major factor. Rather, our attitudes to email in general have changed. There was a phase when email was the latest thing. It was exciting, a whole new world of communication. Remember the thrill of receiving emails in those early days? When I joined b-greek nad Xtalk back in 1996, a large part of the experience was the thrill of receiving electronic communications -- this was not like anything else I had experienced. Back then it was fun to send and receive emails, and to do your scholarship that way. Not now. When I get back from time away from the computer, I don't think, "Oh great, tons of emails!" I think, "Oh no! Email mountain! How will I ever get through all of those?" Email was once exciting but now it is oppressive. Now we do everything by email and attention to our inbox is all about finding ways to get through it as quickly as possible. We are looking for excuses to by-pass, delete as many messages as possible. E-list material has to be relegated when there are tons of personal emails to work one's way through. I suspect that the growth of email oppression is in fact the largest factor in the changing face of several of the e-lists, not least as academics receive a larger proportion of emails than many others.