I feel pretty cool when I casually open my phone to the glorious reception of 11 unopened emails. But not everyone on this campus seems to feel the same way—at least, not when 10 of these 11 emails have been fired out from one of the many Listservs to which we all find ourselves subscribed.
To many residential college dwellers, this has been the predicament of the past few months, as lengthy and polemical Listserv threads have taken root, with topics ranging from the value of doing one’s laundry to the unionization of TigerTransit. But along with irritating a good number of Whitmanites, and others, Listserv traffic has showed us that Princetonians don’t make good bystanders: to make a mountain out of a molehill, we’ve shown that we’re more inclined to hit the “reply” button than mark as “read.”
Take the great laundry debate, for example, which took place over WilsonWire in late November. The initial—or, to use an unnecessarily sophisticated term, “seed”—email consisted of a Wilsonite offering $10 to anyone willing to do his laundry, with an added $5 incentive to be included if the sender deemed his laundry impressively clean. But this seemingly innocuous request incited a lengthy debate in which users questioned the pricetag of a load of laundry and even invoked the words of their mothers. The debate died down shortly after one user requested that the Wire (as the mass of participants in the Listserv are referred to) “stop emailing about laundry.”
Alongside the laundry debate, it’s worth mentioning WhitmanWire’s voting fiasco. Here, the seed email requested that Whitmanites vote for a certain participant in a competition—it was noted in a follow-up email that users could vote multiple times for any one participant. The Wire went at it: Is it right for us to vote for you without doing any research into your qualifications? And is it really ethical to game a voting system with multiple registrations? In many ways, these two conversations present us with an instance of a tame request put under the microscope: Wire participants, being the brilliant Princetonians that they are, feel an exigency to post, a burning desire to (in both of these scenarios) lay down the moralistic law.
But try as they might, these instances both pale in comparison to the recent TigerTransit debate, which began with a call-to-arms: a TigerTransit employee, who had been pushing for unionization, was recently suspended on (allegedly) weak grounds; the seed email asked students to barrage administrators with demands for justice. After one participant questioned why we should support the employees’ right to unionize, the fuse was lit. Later in the week, when a new email was sent regarding the potential mistreatment of Muslims at Rutgers, one wire participant sarcastically echoed this post with a brief and pointed reply: “Why should we support the rights of Muslims?” The post was greeted with requests to leave political banter out of the wire—the same student then came back strong with: “You’re right we need to stop with these stupid games so we can go back to our $150M castle and discuss our next College Night.”
The post, of course, was met with requests to keep the Wire to college-related use only. But a message from last year, written by then-Whitman Director of Studies Cole Crittenden, was sent along, in which Crittenden noted that the Wire was whatever students wanted it to be—including a forum for debate, if need be.
Given the debate elicited by mere laundry requests, I think Crittenden is not only correct in deeming this use appropriate, but that a forum for debate may inevitably be the only use for any mass Listserv—like it or not, Princeton students don’t seem to have the power to play passively.