Two decades ago I was part of new social movement called online conferencing.
People from all around the world used a Unix package called PARTIcipate to discuss issues and their lives with one another. I made some good friends then, among them Joi Ito. (That's him to the left.)
But we quickly learned the dark side of this text-based technology. Misunderstandings could happen. They could escalate. Without the visual cues we get in face-to-face conversation, flame wars could erupt. Moderation became essential.
As time moved on, moderation became a frill, because it didn't scale. Many systems left it behind. Instead we atomized into groups built around professions or interests. Those who didn't like the tenor of an online conversation drifted away. Usually. But some refused to do so. I was one of them.
I was often hurt in the process, because I would keep hammering away on points while those who disagreed with me turned from argument to ridicule. My own psyche did not start to heal until I learned to walk away from such fights -- say what you want once, then leave. And even then I could find myself with an unwanted reputation, followed to other forums by bullies looking to hurt me again.
These were hard lessons. And it has seemed, since, that we keep repeating the same patterns. Discussion threads in the blogosphere are, if anything, technologically backward compared to those on PARTI. Many blogging systems, like Movable Type, don't allow forking of threads, or multi-threading. (Others, like Scoop and Slash, do have this functionality.) By allowing people to post anonymously, you can also be hit with a flame from any direction, at any time.
The point is, I've found this week, that everything old is new again. Flame wars are erupting. Feelings are being hurt. To those who feel offended, some advice from an old flame:
- Say it once and walk away.
- You can't convince someone who isn't willing to listen.
- Escalating is easy, de-escalating is hard, but the hard route is the way to mental peace.
- Apologize first and ask questions later.
- I can't see you or feel your pain through your words, if I choose not to.
- Misunderstanding is easy. Listening is hard.
I do let things go here. I don't want to cut anyone off. But I recognize the risks to you, my friends, and I apologize to you for any misunderstandings, with me or one another, that may result from my approach.