Monday, February 25, 2013

On internet culture, or lack thereof

Earlier this month, I came upon a blog post (via GLPiggy) that was meant as a year-in-review essay, but actually contained more than a few interesting observations on how people act on the internet. I recommend reading it in full, and also checking out Matt Inman's (The Oatmeal) take on the topic.

Here are some of my thoughts, for what it's worth, below some of Baldur Bjarnason's points.
3. Best case scenario for doing stuff online is that people will start knocking on your door, asking you to work for free, never offering to give anything in return.  
While price isn't the same as value (only a proximate metric thereof, in a map/territory kind of way), it is often treated as such. It next to impossible to ask for a payment for something, having previously given it away. People value things they expend effort or resources to obtain more than things they get for free.
8. There is little to no discourse online. What you get are dug in factions and people’s opinion on you are based solely on whether your argument supports what they have chosen to be ‘their team’. If you try and stick to facts and logic, most factions will reject you. It’s ideological trench warfare and the best you can hope for is that the machine-gun nests don’t notice you.
Very true. However, some writers have realized this from the beginning, and the very purpose of their blogs (such as this one, for example) has been to smash up some of those trenches and machine-gun nests. And one doesn't do that with pikes and swords, but with tanks and artillery. There is nothing intrinsically dishonorable in using rhetoric (in addition to facts and logic, not to the exclusion thereof) as a weapon. It is incredibly effective in demolishing the trenches and machine-guns made out of pure rhetoric.
10. Writing isn’t highly regarded by anybody, even in publishing. There’s a lot of romanticism and inane adolescent fantasy about being a writer, but little to no follow-through by anybody, especially not those who call themselves writers.
Considering the adolescent fantasies that pass for writing these days, it's just as well I don't call myself a writer any more than I'd call myself a journalist.
12. People love to send you argumentative, angry, or otherwise negative emails. That is, if they aren’t asking you to work for free.
The key here is motivation. Dissent is a stronger motivator than consent. Words that validate people's views are expected and normal; words that rock the boat are cause for action. Successful rhetoric first gets the audience angry, then directs that anger at the desired target. 
14. Praise is generally only handed out on disposable media, like Twitter, and rarely anywhere where it counts (like blogs, reviews, or other writing), unless you pay for it... The end result is that positive feedback is ephemeral while negative feedback gets preserved forever on angry blogs, comments and forums.

In addition, praise is rarely constructive or cogent. It's not that I don't enjoy getting comments of the "Good job" kind, but it is far more useful when feedback elaborates a point I've made, or asks about something I may have missed. Paying for praise may produce some results in the short run, but there has to be substance behind the buzz, or the bump in interest will fade away fast.
15. People will always prefer you to state the obvious and spout common sense. If you say anything that requires a bit of thinking, or that would require them to learn new skills or ideas, your audience will evaporate into nothing, no matter how important those new things are. (Also see point 8 above.) You can trust that ideas that are new and unfamiliar to an audience will be either ignored or met with anger.
But anger is better than being ignored. Anger can at least be leveraged sometimes, while ambivalence cannot.
16. Nobody cares when you’re right but a lot of people really enjoy it when you’re wrong. They will rub it in your face.
Mistakes are inevitable. Which is why the best course of action when one occurs is to own up to it, make it a teachable moment by explaining why the mistake was made, and do one's level best to not make the same mistake again.
20. The only thing people like more than a post that states the obvious is an angry post that states the obvious. Angry and unreasonable will easily get ten times the attention of even-handed and rational.
See above under 12. Again, motivation. But this works both ways. If everyone is always talking and always shouting, the usually silent person who finally speaks up, in a normal voice, gets a lot of attention. However, that attention quickly evaporates if one has nothing to say.
21. Communities get the discourse they deserve. When either the inane and obvious, or frothing lunacy are all that get attention, then that’s all you end up getting. Moreover, it’s your own damn fault. People may well instapaper the good stuff fully intending to read it at some point in the future (hah!), but bile is the stuff they actually read and it certainly is the only thing they respond to.
It is tempting to "give the people what they want." But everyone else is already doing that. If one is targeting the disappointed, who are looking for a fresh perspective, then give them what they need.

The reason I prefer blogging over Facebook posts, forum posts and tweets is persistence. Today's world is a maelstrom of ephemera and emotions. History is an anchor. This is why I keep linking to things I've written previously, because I'm adding layers to what I've already built, not reinventing the wheel. Continuity helps with credibility - and credibility is the actual currency of the blogosphere, not the number of trolls or sycophants.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What about time constraints, real, physical impossibility to search for, find, read, sort, analyze the blogosphere's & related means input ?

I read "my men" due to certain affinities but also because I trust them to do very well much of the hard work I'm unwilling or unable to do. Maybe another kind of laziness, justified though.

I wouldn't be bothered too much about discernable bias and I'm pretty sure I can spot the sympathies when I'm dealing with a fairly known (to myself) subject. As for original albeit unverifiable through my own means information or thought provoking perspectives, well, the act of reading is, to some extent, an act of faith anyway.

Still, I think the organized bloggery is about to destroy the frame of mind necessary to cope with the distributed/parallel approach internet tool allows(should allow) and demands. Destroy being the keyword here.