Aaron E. Silvers

I’m thinking more in terms of political and philosophical activism (or even dogma), because focusing on the outbursts we see online belies the possibility that we have subcultures abound that might be using the same words, but saying very different things. I don’t think we can tackle manners by treating it as its own thing. The root of these online flame-outs, to me, are because:

  • The medium is not really conducive to a constructive dialog, because we’re not communicating in a shared context of time and space; we’re sharing a simulated space with no constraints on time.
  • One can no longer simply be “free to believe what one wants to believe” because technology has amplified one’s presence, exposing us to others (and others to us) — even when we don’t seek such attention.
  • Because we keep choosing convenient mediums over appropriate mediums to dialogue about differences, we generally serve to widen the gap and raise the volume of our rhetoric, in the same way that we shout in the presence of deaf people (or people who speak a different language) in the vain hope they’ll understand us if we’re louder and more blunt; the end result is we generally alienate those we’re probably (in our own ways) trying in good faith to communicate with.

How many text messages do we send when a phone call would clear it up? How many email games get played around the office that are manipulations of office politics when a real meeting would suffice. How many meetings do we attend for status when simple accountability of actually reading a status report would work? We do a lot of communication, often in the name of transparency, with the expectation that others need to be transparent in a way that is convenient “to me.” In other words, the rules for openness and transparency are for others… they don’t apply to me. Then, when we get transparency and we don’t like what we see — we overreact.

There’s a great blog post (I know it’s Merlin Mann, but I can’t find it) about people who work in soft skills and people who work in technical fields. The idea is that people who work in soft skills learn over time to filter what comes out of their mouths but listen attentively — embracing everything. Techies consume so much information (and maybe grew up being a little ostracized) so they learn to filter what they hear but share everything, because the speed at which information flows is key in such fields. When you put these types of people together, you get dischord because you have someone filtering what they say, which the other can detect but it invokes distrust. You also have someone with no filter talking to someone who filters out nothing of what they hear, and they’re confronted with data they don’t want which devalues the message and the messenger.

I wish everyone (including myself) had a background in cultural anthropology. There’s a lot to be gained by asking better, richer questions of each other.