Do current technologies mask important non-verbal cues?

Are facial expressions and tone of voice important enough to a tutorial that we should regret their apparent absence on-line? Should we be foregrounding (rather than masking) issues of gender, race, class? Do on-line media weaken what many see as a writing center's strength: talk? (See, for example, Wendy Bishop's article, "Writing from the Tips of our Tongues," The Writing Center Journal, 14,  1993.)

Kathryn Grubbs (October 1994, The Writing Lab Newsletter  ) suggests that e-mail does indeed mask important cues, cues that should be brought to a student's attention and dealt with openly. Janet Eldred and Gail Hawisher have suggested, though, that cues aren't always as clearly masked as many think. (See "Researching Electronic Networks" in Written Communication,  July, 1995.)

Whether or not we lose valuable cues when we go on-line remains unanswered to me. We do lose some cues, such as facial expressions and tone of voice. But I'm not certain how "true" or "accurate" those cues always are anyway. Moreover, I agree with Eldred and Hawisher that we don't yet know exactly how other cues get inscribed on-line. For example, something spelled out in all-caps comes across as shouting; one's tag line may send certain signals about status. We need to identify and recognize the repertoire of cues available in a given technology

and . . .

Stuart Blythe
Purdue University