Yes, but…

Faded Glory

Faded Glory, originally uploaded by bfurnace.

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.

3 replies on “Yes, but…”

  1. I spend a good bit of my time reading poker message boards. Let’s just say the quality of discourse makes me weep for the future of our species. Plus you need a tetanus shot before you wade into the muck.

  2. Hmmm, I find it interesting that you don’t enjoy online conversation — or at least our online conversation — and yet want to start a web-based news organization. That seems counter-intuitive.

    I wouldn’t think that people didn’t hear what you said – I think it’s more a matter of computer-mediate-communication being different than face-to-face.

    Sorry you aren’t enjoying the conversation. I’ve had great fun reading differing viewpoints than my own. That’s the joy of these for me.

  3. Hey Brad,

    I like the conversation on Journalism Next, quite a bit in fact — all the participants are great and have thoughtful viewpoints. I even like online conversations (like this one).

    It’s the email delivery mechanism that I don’t like.

    This could be something particular about me, because plenty of other people seem to love mailing lists and email exchanges.

    On the simplest level, email exchanges tend to carry along quoted prior text, so there’s some tedious searching for the new content, and figuring out who said what when. If if one makes the mistake of subscribing to a digest, then the responses don’t all stay in the same thread and it takes some work to track back through everything.

    In contrast, a forum for example tends to keep all the threads and subthreads in line. None of the responses gets lost, and even if one thinks maybe she was misunderstood, she can see her response sitting right there amongst the others, so she doesn’t wonder whether her message was read. Ditto comments on a blog post.

    Email is nice in so many ways, though, that it’s worth figuring out how to combine its best elements with the best of a forum. The project management system Basecamp has done a nice job of integrating email into their project messaging system; maybe something along those lines would work.

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