(A List of Don't's)

by Jeff Hendershott

Communication technology has effected just about every facet of our lives, and "time travel," also known as Civil War reenacting, is not immune. Hey, if Grant would have had a PC, he would have used it, right?

Closer to home, units and larger brigade-type organizations have developed forums for communication called "web groups" (or "weep groups," as my friend "Farby" so admirably calls them), complete with moderators. (Now, how does one get a job like that?) Make one post with a hit on the "send" button with your PC, and many can get your message.

This is a good thing. Even though I personally believe that nothing beats a good old-fashioned mailed newsletter and meetings where schedules and business can be hammered out face-to-face, these forums for "communication" have their place.

However, for those of us who have varied interests and have trouble staying "on topic," participating on a "web group" may be difficult. We'll get to that later.

As has been my observation during reenacting events, it seems like we spend VERY LITTLE time talking about the Civil War during our free time. That time, and especially time spent around the campfire at night, is usually taken up with swapping the latest jokes, discussing the latest topics in the news, or trading stories about crazy things that have happened during previous events.

Having said that, and without getting into my own personal experiences, let's talk about our conduct on these "web groups," discussion groups, or what have you. I've found that those of us who think the same people who you "cut-up" with at an event appreciate your sense of humor on the computer may certainly be wrong? For this, I have no explanation. However, to save yourself potential grief, you might consider this list of "no-no's."

1) DON'T DISCUSS POLITICS - What's the old saying? "Never discuss religion or politics with friends and family." You better believe that's true - especially politics! I've come to find that most reenactors tend to be conservative to one degree or another. No foul there, unless you bring up politics in a web discussion. Some one will inevitably get in a twist if you do this! Which is interesting, because our founding fathers strived to provide us with freedom to debate government and politics. For some reason, it's "off limits" not only on a web group but in most social situations. No wonder, oh, never mind........but you get the drift.

2) NO JOKING - Which is odd territory. Some can, and nothing is said. Some do, and it rubs people the wrong way. My dad told me once "It's not what you do, it's who you are." Even more weird, with all the ribald kidding and joking that occurs at events, it's NOT welcome on the computer, at least in the "weep group" format. Go figure.

3) DON'T GET "OFF TOPIC" - Which goes without saying if you have read this so far. If you want to talk Revy War, the college football bowl games or The Three Stooges, do it elsewhere (by the way, The Three Stooges web site has a killer discussion group, of which I'm a proud member). If you don't want to talk Civil War, reenacting, the schedule or an event, DON'T make a post!

4) DON'T POST IN VOLUME - Or, in other words, don't make a lot of posts. Some become upset of having to "weed through all the posts" while checking their e-mail. This typically does not bother the non-anal retentives, but it's just a good practice to be an occasional visitor to the site.

5) DON'T DISCUSS NORTH-v-SOUTH - What? Isn't this why we reenact? Don't do it! Especially if you are in a larger organization that represents both Reb and Yank groups. Amazing that the animosity still festers...........

6) NO JOKING - Yeah, I know we have already been over this one, but it's the one thing that can get you into the most trouble if you do, so memorize NO JOKING by rote!

I'm sure there are more DONT's I've missed, yet these are the biggies. Stay "on topic," be cordial, don't joke and make nonsensical comments (an act only acceptable at events), don't make many posts and, perhaps most of all, be politically correct.

And if you find these DON'Ts impossible to follow, Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp will be happy to have you on their discussion group.

Jeff Hendershott is a retired reenactor from Ohio who detests political correctness and really IS a member of the Three Stooges Fan Club. He blames this on the years of drinking whole bean coffee and porta-pot odor poisoning.

Additional, from Jonah Begone: I know very well of what Jeff speaks of in this article, because in late 1994 I created and was the list-owner of an Internet reenacting discussion list; this was the "cw-reenactors" list. I think it's still running, under the kindly management of the Widow Barfield, last time I checked. While it was fun to electronically communicate with people - and more fun to actually meet them at events - a lot of the time it was simply a chore. Why?

1. There would always be an element of folks who, by nature, were simply unprepared for electronic communications. Either they get easily swamped by feeling like they have to read everything that hits their in-box or they had problems setting up filters. These folks invariably demanded, sooner or later, "Take me off this $%#@#$!%$@ list" - which required interaction from the moderator or list owner on what is an easily user-accomplishable task.

2. Every now and then a firebrand Reb (far more often than Yanks, in my experience) would enter who wanted to use the forum as a means of educating us all about the terrible wrong inflicted upon the South by the North. Then a Northern partisan would respond - and soon, it was (rhetorical) Civil War and any discussion about reenacting, the true purpose for the list, would get swept away. An adjunct to this phenomena was the legal-minded Constitutionality Expert who'd enter to haggle over constitutionality issues of secession. Very tiresome.

3. I have to admit, even as the list-owner I found it nearly impossible to stay topical and remain on the sole subject of reenacting. My interests are broad, and a remark I once read by a Texas reenactor - "Specialization is for insects!" - is something I can instinctively agree with. This, and the presence of Topicality Nazis - people who got very upset if the conversation drifted away from reenacting - convinced me that I was not mentally well-equipped to run a single-topic Internet discussion list. So I gave it up. Al Aronson kindly took it over for awhile, and then the Widow Barfield took over after him.

4. There was also a guilt factor in play. Internet list groups can easily put 50 or more e-mail messages a day into one's inbox, and after a pleasant family weekend with no Internet activities, one comes back Monday to find an overwhelming amount of mail to sort through. Lots of unread deletions are the natural solution. Then guilt: "That was a well-written point of view. I really should have responded," etc. When Thoreau said, "Simplify, simplify, simplify," I'm sure he must have anticipated the age of fast electronic communications.

Frankly, I'm convinced that Internet message boards are a much better idea. An Internet site is more optional and a step removed from an unwanted e-mail arriving in an inbox.