Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thinking Outside the Pizza Box

Since today's theme is communication, digital culture, and higher education, I have to share one final pet peeve about the gap between the corporate cultures that are thriving off the computational media revolution and the norms of academic life in the Ivory Tower.

As many technology firms and game development studies do, our weekly staff meeting of the Humanities Core Course had included pizza to encourage attendees to come early and stay late and to build connections across disciplines by taking advantage of the sociality stimulated by food. Personally, I don't like to preside over meetings where nourishment isn't provided, since low blood sugar is also a factor that can exacerbate institutional conflict. Besides, I've noticed from visiting my colleagues in the School of Computer Science that pizza boxes are often stacked up out in the hall. As one friend who had been a producer for Netscape somewhat cynically noted, at technology firms providing food is also part of the calculation for boosting productivity and a conscious strategy to get more labor out of employees by building a community around mandated meetings. For highly trained workers, the pennies that it costs to get their time and attention is well-worth the investment by corporate managers.

Nonetheless, at the end of last month I received the following e-mail to the campus community, which included several links to charts like this one that attempt to provide a graphical framework to explain what we had already discovered would be a university-wide limited food rule.

If your department hosts functions where meals or refreshments are served, a recent UCOP revision to policy BUS-79 will be important to you. BUS-79 applies to expense reimbursements for business meetings, entertainment functions, and other occasions where food is provided.

Right now I'm reading the book SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home in connection with a chapter about e-mail written by government officials. The book has a YouTube video, which unfortunately does not actually put forward the digital rhetoric argument, and an interesting website for user-generated content where the authors solicit submission of visitors' worst-email stories.

This campus-wide message follows some of the rules of Shipley's and Schwalbe's book but ignores others. It gets right to the point, but it doesn't provide context. As many bureaucratic mass mails do, it doesn't give the recipient any sense of the occasion for which the message is required. Of course, the stimulus for communication is probably the resistance of large courses with staff meetings like ours that were engaged in futile counterargument strategies with the university's administration. But to make it clear that the e-mail was at least partially a response from rhetoric circulating elsewhere on campus may give the communication a tone of rebuttal or reaction that would be undesirable from the standpoint of academic decorum.

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