Communication is an essential part of Northwestern's operation. Every day, solutions to problems are debated, and seminars and service changes are announced. The communications system that started with paper mail and grew to include the telephone and electronic mail is inefficient and overburdened. We can do much better by moving forward into the realm of electronic publishing and group discussion.
Sure, the phone and e-mail will still have their places. Calling someone still is the best method when dealing with time-critical matters or when a high level of interactive discussion is needed between two people. But otherwise, the phone is a very intrusive method of communication, interrupting our current thoughts whenever it rings.
Electronic mail is useful for private communication between individuals or groups. But since the e-mail system is already overloaded, organizations which don't need the privacy should be encouraged to use more efficient methods.
The campus mail system is a shining example of waste and inefficiency. University junk mail arrives in my mailbox every day, usually after an event or with some tidbit in which I have no interest. Besides wasting paper, each mass mailing uses considerable amounts of human labor, ink and electricity. In addition, many of the items can't be easily recycled.
Computers were supposed to usher in the paperless office. NU just spent a few million dollars upgrading and expanding the campus computer network so we could communicate better with each other. But is NU fully utilizing this capability?
NU provides us with a USENET News server, but we could make better use of it. Through this service we can post announcements and avoid the cost of mass mailings and advertising in the Daily Northwestern. We also can hold community discussions on a wide variety of topics and brainstorm to help each other solve problems. Classes that now use the overloaded e-mail system for discussion could use the news system instead. Besides the benefits of NU communication, USENET News also connects us to millions of people worldwide from whom we can draw advice and information.
Despite all the hype over the World Wide Web, it actually can be an effective method for information dissemination. Instead of diging through your files, you could just fire up your web browser. You might have a bookmark to the information, or you could utilize a search engine. Worries about having out of date information would be over because the on-line information would always be uptodate.
Just as computers helped make publishing on paper more efficient, electronic publishing can now revolutionize the whole concept. Electronic discussion can help the community work better together. Although the Web started blossoming over two and-a-half years ago and other solutions have long been available, NU is only at the beginning stages of utilizing the new communication mediums.
-Robert, who is featured in the Daily's WebExtra