Tuesday, January 26, 2010


(fm the BC thread "Hatchet vs scalpel")

Is Tocque going to become a feature available on other PJM blogs?

Our host is to be congratulated for being responsive to visitor concerns. Maintaining a popular blog is a difficult task. I do not call it a job since we should remember that nobody, not even I would guess Roger Simon, is making money off of this. As a social enviornment blogs have two great drawbacks.

First is that people are anonymous. That is true to other guests even for sites with prior registration requirements. It is true that few are really anonymous in the sense that, except for those using advance technology with multiple server cut-outs and dynamic IP switching, the police can trace people who engage in threatening and criminal conduct. It is also true that for the vast majority of people all that matters is that other public visitors can not easily locate them. That results in a fools freedom that can change the behavior of even quiet polite people. The same thing happens when people travel to a foreign country or even a distant city. Here it is the opposite of Cheers. No one knows your name, unless you choose to reveal it. So people do tend to say things that they would not if their audience was looking into their eyes and could respond more directly.

The second and related problem is that this is a very limited form of communication. All we have is typed words and an occasional link to a video or some document. This isn't even chat. There is no intonation, no expression other than a smiley emoticon. That eliminates all the ways that humans as much as any animal communicate other than through intellectual symbolism. Text does neither self deprecating wit nor sarcasm well.

The result of these engineering constraints is that normal people can act more emotionally while their emotions are being badly expressed. Hostile and deceitful people or trolls have a perect medium to exploit. The host may pour enormous amounts of time and effort into the venture with little expectation of reward and a constant fear that malicious and unkown or unstable forces are tearing it all down.

Many of us have experienced tha unfortunate results of one effort to control the blogging environment that effectively destroyed what had been an excellent blog when the owner resorted to the mass banning of anyone who disagreed with him or even visited other blogs. We do not want that to ever happen here. It may be unlikely given the different temperament, experience and education of the host but we should still do our part to keep this fragile place intact. That does not mean that we need to agree with each other. It does mean that we have real physical limitations on how we can: see each other, deflect criticism or misunderstanding, and do any of the million gestures or clues that are used in a social setting to defuse tension or offer support or a warning in a way that deescalates a potential confrontation. Because of those limitations we have to make the extra effort to be agreeable even when we disagree. We have to focus on the message and not the messenger and to not personalize criticism recieved.

That does not make us doormats. Long time members of the Club know that on at least a couple of occasions I have been intentionally rude and given the facts of those cases I have no regrets. If I am ever unintentionally rude then I hope that I will apologize. These new tools, the ability to Ignore and reduce clutter from a troll, and most importantly the ability to give a back-channel message to another commentator, should reduce the level of heat generated by unintended friction.

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