Today on a mailing list I follow there was a lively debate. Lots of interesting ideas were batted around, and good thinks were thought. (You can find the threads in the Journalism_Next archives — look for posts with "The Future of Everything" in the title.)
In the end, my big takeaway was that I don’t much enjoy online debates.
I already thought some of the conclusions that people came to, so there weren’t any big ah-ha moments for me. (Maybe that just means I didn’t really give full consideration to the viewpoints which I didn’t agree with; but on this occasion I happened to agree a lot, so I think I was paying attention.)
More significantly, I felt like this discussion kept interrupting my day (because I let it, by checking email to see if anyone said anything interesting). More frustrating, in the end I didn’t feel confident that anyone heard or cared about what I’d written. Maybe this was the result of the style of the others participating, or the fact that I don’t know any of them well (I know Brad King, but not well enough to feel confident I know what he means all the time). Or maybe I’m just a whiny brat who thinks everyone should cheer when she says anything.
I could go back and restate the points I thought might have been missed. I won’t. All the important things have been said, and resaying them offers little return.
(Let me make clear that I think everyone on the list is a good person and a fine thinker, and no one was rude or insulting or anything along those lines. In fact, of mailing lists I’ve participated in, this is among the best. My issue is more with the technology, or maybe the protocol (or lack thereof) of discussions on a listserve.)
It’s too bad, this unpleasantness of online discussion, because email and the web on the whole offer many great tools to interact with people one might not otherwise meet or have the chance to talk to. But these tools still lack the ability to let us really see and absorb gestures, facial expressions, and nuances — little subtle changes and shifts, tiny sighs, small smiles. And so online tools require much more from the participants — extra effort to show that you’ve absorbed and acknowledge the other person’s viewpoint, for example. It’s hard stuff. Given a choice, and I’d rather sit down across from you and talk to you.