The Internet in 2000:
Opportunities and Disadvantages to Scholarly Work

(results of an online brainstorming session)

edited by
Dr T. Matthew Ciolek,
Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies,
Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

Document created: 4 Jun 2000. Last revised: 8 Jun 2000

1. Introduction

On 22 March 2000 a 'brainstorming' question was posed via email to the two mailing lists specializing in social sciences and Asian Studies. These were: the H-Net list for Asian History and Culture (H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU), aka H-Asia (; and the ECAITECH@ACL.ARCHAEOLOGY.USYD.EDU.AU, a mailing list dealing with the technology and digital methodologies of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI) ( In Mar 2000 the first of the lists, H-Asia, had more than 1,600 members, whereas the ECAITECH had over 120 members. Subscribers to both lists came from Australia, East and South East Asia, Europe, Middle East and North America.

The question posed to readers of the two lists was phrased as follows: That question was a replica of a question from two years ago which was sent to several Asian Studies' scholars in March 1998. The results of that earlier inquiry were presented online in Ciolek 1998a.

The March 2000 brainstorming question, being a follow-up on the 1998 investigations, was kindly answered by 16 persons. They are listed below in alphabetic order:

Several of the respondents were personally known to this writer. They range from individuals with a modest experience with the IT and only a few years of exposure to the Internet as such, to persons with a large number computer skills (both in the areas of hardware and software, including running servers, daily use of image processing and relational databases) as well as with at least 9-10 years of daily exposure to the Internet.

All 16 'brainstorming' answers, minus any salutations, valedictions and other passages of text which could reveal the identity of a respondent, are printed here verbatim in order in which they were received via email. The presence of my editorial interventions and ellipses is indicated by square [] brackets.

2. Brainstorming Replies

Reply 01

Reply 02

Reply 03

Reply 04

Reply 05

Reply 06

Reply 07

Reply 08

Reply 09

Reply 10

Reply 11

Reply 12

Reply 13

Reply 14

Reply 15

Reply 16

3. A summary of themes and concerns

Alltogether the sixteen respondents provided a total 109 partially overlapping, and partially unique comments. This means approximately 6.8 individual remarks per person. They were fairly balanced: 59 of them (i.e. 54%) were emphasising the positive aspects of the Internet, whereas another 50 of them (i.e.46%) remarked on the emerging complications and on the "murky side of the Net." As a whole the replies, whose source is marked by a number in a round bracket, reveal several parallel threads of thought:


  1. Enhanced access to information:
    According to the respondents, the greatest opportunity offered by the Internet, is the access it gives to information. This opportunity is fulfilled on a number of planes:

  2. Enhanced command of one's field of work
    According to the respondents, the Internet is an important factor in in shaping, widening and honing one's knowledge and vocational skills:

  3. Enhanced communication between scholars
    Respondents point out that the Internet promotes and sustains person-to-person and person-to-group communication between scholars:

  4. Enhanced scope for publication of information
    Also, according to the respondents, the Internet helps not only to access and consume information, but also to deliver one:

  5. Enhanced financial/career/ opportunities
    Finally, in the eyes of the respondents the Internet is an environment where brand new resources can be developed, and one's work is innovatively promoted/marketed:


    All the above advantages come however at a certain price. According to the respondents there are a number of worrysome factors and developments.

    1. Scholars' skills and resources lag behind endless technological developments
      Respondents indicated two problematic areas: inadequate IT skills and ever-costly hardware:

      • Lagging skills
        • computer/Internet technology becomes over-complicated (01)
        • I'm constantly wondering where I've got one file or another hidden (01)
        • problems with artificially imposed security and the associated passwords (01)
        • teaching students to distinguish the quality of information is difficult (10)
        • teaching students to respect the integrity and source of information is difficult (10)
        • difficulty explaining research efforts to [non-networked] people (11)
      • Lagging resources
        • once you are using computers, you need your own, preferably just the one [powerful machine] (01)
        • [growing] expense [of new tools] (11)

    2. Increased workload and stress
      Respondents noted the correlation between the spread of the networked technologies and evergrowing intensity and volume of work-related stress:

      • Information overload
        • interaction overload, information overload, technological evolution overload, conceptualisation overload (07)
        • unnecessary communication (11)
        • there is simply too much information (13)
        • tracking preferences of those who use a search engine and delivery of 'personalized' advertisements (14)
      • Increased demands on scholar's time
        • use of the discussion groups, means the extra time required to sift through material, only remotely connected to one's on current work (04)
        • I spend hours a day going through and answering the significant messages that never seem to end (06)
        • unanswered messages easily accumulate so that they may take a whole weekend to resolve (06)
        • often takes too long to get the information one is really looking for (08)
        • I do not have time to read everything (15)
        • it eats up time. I spend at least an hour a day dealing with email. I'm not sure if I ever spent that much time a day, say, on the phone or writing letters (16)
      • Increased pace of work
        • the pressures of academic life, meeting multiple deadlines, leaves the working academic with little leisure time - for the broadening of the mind, albeit essential (04)
        • increased pace of work (07)
        • less time to reflect on and process information (11)
        • higher quality of work is expected in less time (11)
      • Additional psychological pressures
        • the [local IT] controls have become stifling; and the whole experience for me is now not a friendly one (01)
        • competition is snapping at your heels or riding roughshod over the top of you. The realisation you are a small fish in a big pond full of focussed carnivores (07)
        • the search for online information generally feels like a waste of time and nerves (08)
        • there's a new pressure of things (email) waiting/needing to be done (16)
        • the internet creates a new anxiety for me. Nevermind that I already have enough research materials gathered from archives, etc. that I worry I'll never get too (16)
        • the internet makes me feel that there are all these new sites of information that I may not know about, don't know how to use or access, don't have to the time to play around with, etc. (16)

    3. Shortcomings in content and organization of online information
      Respondents noted several chronic problems with online information:

      • Volatility of online information
        • the e-zine format is exceedingly perishable (02)
      • Dumbing down of the networked information and it users
        • it's easy for the students to get a short and sweet picture of a subject while spending a few seconds on the Net (05)
        • undergraduates' papers are restatements or, often, simply quotations from the Net (05)
        • increased unanimity of information and mediocrity of thinking (05)
      • Low signal:noise ratio
        • just too much trash out there that chokes up the system (06)
        • the WWW has yet to impact my scholarly/professional activities very much, apart from the traffic to my own site and the inquiries concerning my department's datasets that it generates (06)
        • badly presented, messy information (08)
        • unnecessary advertisments, that use up time and energy (08)
        • there is a great deal of very bad information available (10)
        • trash mail (12)
        • deleting unnecessary (for reader) information from mailing lists takes as long as actually reading the useful material (13)
        • on email lists some people tend to just give their opinion, instead of facts (15)
      • Insufficient organization of online materials
        • too great a variety of not very well classified information (08)
        • resources have not changed in scope since they were created some years ago, but their volume has increased (13)
        • because of the frequency of opinionated messages on email lists it is possible that readers can delete useful e-mail judging only by its incompletely labelled subject line (15)
      • Trust in online information is undermined
        • the concensus (and practice) among colleagues I noticed is that one has to acquire the hard-copy if one wishes to pay attention to the work (02)
        • just as the internet has the power to inform, it also has the power to misinform (09)
        • this is the greatest disadvantage of the internet - it is so easy to misinform people (09)

    4. Other negative cultural/psychological processes
      Respondents also report other areas of problems and concerns:

      • the integration of computer software has made plagiarism exceedingly easy (10)
      • possible copyright infractions (12)
      • commercialization of the Internet (14)
      • some people tend to bring politics into email discussions (15)

    5. Inadequate handling of the CJK character set
        [no comments, negative or positive, were provided in March 2000 on the CJK and the Internet]

    4. A comparison of the 1998 & 2000 studies

    The above responses, once tabulated and juxtaposed with results of 1988 study form the following table:

    ADVANTAGES 1998 2000
    1. Enhanced access to information 9 13% 20 18%
    2. Enhanced command of one's field of work 2 3% 12 11%
    3. Enhanced communication between scholars 11 16% 16 15%
    4. Enhanced scope for publication of information 3 4% 3 3%
    5. Enhanced financial/career/ opportunities 3 4% 8 7%
    Advantages: Total 28 41% 59 54%
    1. Scholars' skills and resources lagging behind 3 4% 8 7%
    2. Increased workload and stress 11 16% 20 19%
    3. Shortcomings in the info's content and organization 16 24% 18 17%
    4. Other negative cultural/psychological processes 8 12% 4 4%
    5. Inadequate handling of the CJK character set 2 3% - 0%
    Disadvantages: Total 40 59% 50 46%
    TOTAL COMMENTS 68 100% 109 100%

    Upon comparison of the 2000 and 1998 data ten (10) trends seem to emerge:

    1. On the whole, more positive comments were offered in March 2000 than it was the case 2 years ago (54% vs. 41%)
    2. In March 2000 there was no mention of problems with online handling of the CJK character sets (0% vs. 3%).
      (This cannot be an accident, because among the participants in the 2000 inquiru there were a number sinologists. No mention of the troubles at the intersection of the Internet and CJK fonts, suggests that the issue has been successfully resolved).

      The next four trends seem to be pointing to the continuing 'sunny aspect' of the Internet

    3. Enhanced communication between scholars continues to be reported very often (15% vs.16%)
    4. More references to the enhanced access to information (18% vs. 13%)
    5. More references to the enhanced command of one's field of expertise (18% vs. 13%)
    6. More references to the enhanced financial/career opportunities (7% vs. 4%)

      However, these positive developments co-exist, side-by-side, with the continuing recognition of Internet's murkiness:

    7. Fewer references to the shortcomings of the Internet's content and organization (17% vs. 24%)
      (It is not clear, however, whether this drop in the relative number of complaints in this area is attributed to the respondents' increased navigational skills or to the increased use of such superior search tools like Google (
    8. Fewer references to other negative cultural/psychological processes (4% vs. 12%)
      (Again, it is not known whether this drop in the number of complaints is indicative of fewer - alltogether - problems, or is it a sign of growing habituation and apathy?)
    9. More references to the lagging skills and resources (7% vs. 4%)
      (An obvious solution here seems to be a systematic provision of more training to personnel who require extra skills in a particular IT and Internet area)
    10. More references to the increased IT related workload and stress (19% vs. 16%)
      (This seems to be a global trend, one which co-exists with the increase in the use of the networks and computer technology, but also the one which is not directly caused by these technical developments. What are the suitable counter-measures to be employed here, no-one seems to know. A short discussion of strategies people employ to cope with information overload is provided in Ciolek 1998b).

    5. Conclusions

    The above study is not a statistically representative survey. It is based on a mere handful of observations provided by even a smaller number of self-selected and self-reporting repondents. However since they are knowledgeable respondents their insights and glosses have a similar status to that of a group of gold prospectors volunteering a candid opinion where, in a given terrain, one is most likely to find (or not find) a vein of the metal in question.

    In addition to the above listed trends, two final comments can be made.

    Firstly, the Internet is indeed a miraculous device. The fact that this writer was able to reach and query some 1720 people from all over the world (Australia, Malaysia, HK, France, Mexico, Germany, USA), do so from the comfort of his office, and do so within approximately 1 week speaks eloquently for itself.

    Secondly, one cannot fail to observe that the response rate to this online 'brainstorming' was extremely low. I was hoping for at least some 50-80 replies, uet a received only 16 of them. Howver, this low response rate is meaningful too. It points to a possible momentous process: In the case of H-ASIA list eleven (11) persons out of over 1600, i.e. 0.7% of the total group had the time, energy and interest to answer my query. Even a smaller and more personalized and well integrated mailing list such as the ECAITECH generated merely five (5) responses out of 120, or 4%.

    These numbers seem to suggest that by March 2000 the Internet became source of major informational and interactional overload, and only a very small percentage of its users has, actually, any spare capacity left to deal with unexpected and extraneous stimuli like a request for an input into this study.

    Hopefully, the third of the 'brainstorming" sessions, one which is planned for March 2002 should be able to cast additional light on the observed trends and developments.

6. Appendix 1 - Remapped 1998 data

Fourteen participants from March 1998 study provided a total of 68 comments, that is approx. 4.9 remarks per person. These materials, if mapped upon a list of concerns and observations from March 2000, form the following pattern:


  1. Enhanced access to information
    • Quality
      • access to substantial full text information (98 study-reply no.04)
      • ability to access various libraries to check on citations (98-07)
      • existence of trusted [esp. refereed] sources of information (98-10)
      • existence of moderated mailing lists (98-10)
    • Ease
      • access into any information, any time, any place, any how (98-04)
    • Variety/Richness
      • access to information not previously accessible (98-02)
      • the Net offers a range of resources never before available (98-05)
      • accessing a huge variety of information, especially from 'faraway' places (98-08)
      • cascading layers of knowledge being displayable and accessible in multi-tiered form (98-06)

  2. Enhanced command of one's field of work
    • New ideas
      • a valuable source of ideas (98-11)
      • positive surprise factor practically every day (98-06)

  3. Enhanced communication between scholars
    • Forming contacts/networking
      • speed and ease of communication (98-03)
      • fast and free contact with other scholars (98-07)
      • the opportunity to form networks of like-minded individuals (98-08)
      • potential for networking with like-minded scholars (98-10)
      • seamless public outreach (98-06)
    • Collaboration/sharing information
      • enhanced scholarly communication (98-09)
      • a venue for the exchange of ideas (98-11)
      • pooling resources to amplify research foundations (98-01)
      • shared information can be made to be shared by an anonymous "all" (98-06)
    • Getting help and feedback
      • transportation and transmission of scholarly expertise in real time (98-06)
      • instant communication with people world-wide (98-10)

  4. Enhanced scope for publication of information
    • E-Publishing opportunities
      • vanity-free anonymous publishing (98-06)
      • potential for wide distribution of information (98-10)
    • Promotion opportunities
      • the opportunity to spread my own message (98-08)
    • Enhanced financial/career/ opportunities
      • the Internet opens all sorts of possibilities - esp. at the global level (98-05)
      • creation of an ethos that can help with global issues (98-01)
      • flattening and deconstruction of professional hierarchies (98-06)


  1. Scholars' skills and resources lag behind endless technological developments
    • Lagging skills
      • lack of skills in efficient maintenance of online information (98-10)
      • lack of skills in efficient research/retrieval of online information (98-10)
      • no inherent training for disriminating use of the Net (98-06)

  2. Increased workload and stress
    • Information overload
      • access to too much information (98-02)
      • information overload (98-03)
      • information overload (98-08)
      • information overload (98-10)
    • Increased demands on scholar's time
      • one wastes a great deal of time trying to separate the wheat from the chaff (98-11)
      • delays inherent in the World Wide Wait and wait (98-04)
      • the wait time while accessing networked resources (98-10)
    • Increased pace of work
      • doing web work without assistants or released time (98-07)
      • ceasless shrinking of the time regarded as a tolerable interruption/delay in our work activities (98-04)
    • Additional psychological pressures
      • online presentation and publication do not count as 'approved' professional activity (98-06)
      • the crowding of cyberspace with professional educators telling us how to use
      • the web for teaching and learning (98-07)

  3. Shortcomings in content and organization of online information
    • Volatility of online information
      • ephemeral nature of the Internet resources (98-10)
      • volatility of hypertext links and of the online resources (98-11)
    • Dumbing down of the networked information and it users
      • lack of creative modalities on the web (98-01)
      • dumbness of present relevancy indices (98-04)
    • Low sigal:noise ratio
      • vanity-driven pseudo-copyrighted junk (98-06)
      • the lack of quality control over document scanning (98-07)
      • academic sites that simply point to other people's materials (98-07)
      • too much of exploratory or inadequate material (98-11)
      • mailing lists are used mainly for socialization and not for exchange of factual information (98-10)
    • Insufficient organization of online materials
      • wealth of information on the Internet is badly organized (98-09)
      • lack of meta-structure to information on the Internet (98-10)
      • inadequate indexing/identification of materials resulting in productive hits
      • being only a fraction of total hits (98-04)
      • misuses of markup-languages while handling logical structure, presentation and content of a document (98-06)
      • no vetting process in most resources (98-11)
      • uncoordinated, redundant efforts (98-06)
      • diffusion and fragmentation of the web (98-01)

  4. Other negative cultural/psychological processes
    • publisher greed and academic faculty indifference (98-05)
    • the growth of site-licensed proprietary data bases (98-07)
    • tendency of some institutions to restrict access to their resources to their own
    • faculty and students (98-07)
    • the prevailing tendency of web-builders to slap "copyright" on everything they do (98-07)
    • web development funding being diverted to web management and administration (98-07)
    • Institutions should be respected for what they produce for the public, not what they
    • make available to a restricted audience or for a price (98-07)
    • one should consider how much scholarly effort is diverted from scholarship to increasing the net's value for scholars (98-07)
    • one should consider the cost of ongoing maintenance of good online resource (98-10)

  5. Inadequate handling of the CJK character set
    • continuing language [esp. vernaculars using non latin fonts] barriers (98-06)
    • problems with correct handling of CJK fonts (98-10)

7. Acknowledgements

I am indebted to my hard working Internet colleagues who kindly agreed to participate in the informal 'opinion poll' of 1998 and 2000.

8. References

Site Meter
visitors to since 08 May 1997.

Maintainer: Dr T.Matthew Ciolek (

Copyright (c) 2000 by T.Matthew Ciolek. All rights reserved. This Web page may be freely linked to other Web pages. Contents may not be republished, altered or plagiarized.

This page has been tested for full accessibility


[ Asian Studies WWW VL ] [ ] [ Buddhist Studies WWW VL ]