¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 “What we can construct, if we keep notes and survive, are hindsight accounts of the connectedness of things that seem to have happened: pieced together happenings, after the fact.” [Geertz 1997: 158]
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Among the frequently voiced hyperbole of technological evangelists and the doom-laden pronouncements of their detractors lies a present that seems as complex and intense as anything so far envisioned. Indeed, “information is always socially organised, and usually in non-obvious ways so that values get built into techniques of knowledge.” [Anderson 1995: 15] The predominance of text as the primary mode of communication in these groups belies the depth of engagement which may result. Electronic writing is not the same as the printed word. In having both literary and speech-like qualities, there is a resultant metamessage which suggests that “time would no longer be circular (as in orality) or linear (as with historical societies of writing) but punctual. Punctual time and the acceleration of information would entail that knowledge be not fixed, as in writing, but evolving, as in an expert system.” [Escobar 1994: 219] The electronic hypertextual narratives of mailing lists and newsgroups are neither stable over time nor regularly periodic. They exhibit a punctual switching of expectation – in incidents such as the flame war on the McLuhan list – that can be seen as behaviour similar to that of De Landa’s [1996a] chaotic, or ‘strange’ attractors.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Strange attractors are characterised by their sensitive dependence on initial conditions This dynamic also seems present in virtual communities; as Boissevain  observed, the intersection of two coalitions (or mailing lists) is a person (in this case the list owner), and that their values may radically affect the outcome of that intersection. When schism occurs in virtual communities, cyberspacetime narratives ‘bifurcate’ in unexpected ways, so that classical narrative time gives way to what Ermarth calls ‘ph(r)ase time’ – postmodern, finite and problematic, and implying local definition. This term concatenates the ‘phase time’ of physics and Lyotard’s ‘phrases in dispute.’ such that “to conceive of language as phrases and not as structure is… to liberate from confinement certain powers of language suppressed during several centuries of rationalist hegemony” [Ermarth 1995: 96] In a newsgroup or conference, where voices are legitimated by the content of the message rather than by the hierarchical position of the speaker, it is indeed the ‘phrases’ that are in dispute. Networked discussion reduces the contributions of all members to the level of content, and thus “it becomes possible to think of a cultural poetics that is an interplay of voices.” [Collins 1995: 40]
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Constituted as they are by discursive threads, mailing lists may be considered as the result of many email ‘voices’ constructing collaborative literary narratives. Ermarth claims that postmodern narratives work formally, but that it is “a formality of sustained interruption.” [Ermarth 1995: 105] DIRECT-L – a vast conglomeration of fragments of discussions – exemplifies this notion; members construct linear narratives through the structural formality of the ‘subject line’, but at any point they may be drawn to another thread or posting which captures their attention. “Details here do not act, as they do in historical sequences, as grounds for generalisation but instead as switches capable of rerouting expectation in several directions at once.” [op. cit: 102-3] One finds, embedded within the linear text of a DIRECT-L digest, multiple interwoven narratives, each of which may be read differently, and few of which may be predicted. Members of the group can be seen as readers who bring their own agenda to the text, and thus extract from it meanings which are unique to themselves. By means these now ‘unsuppressed powers of language’, the participants are engaging in an alternative social construction of knowledge.