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"Ah, the vibrant interaction of electronic conversation. Isn't it beautiful? In a word: No."
March 26, 2001 8:57 AM   Subscribe

"Ah, the vibrant interaction of electronic conversation. Isn't it beautiful? In a word: No." A pessimistic take on "community."
posted by maura (26 comments total)

 
The writer of the piece is a malcontent who thinks that those who have ideas, views to share on line are not nearly as bright or fascinating as guys that write for the newspapers.
True it is that there is flaming. But we get this at town hall meetings (how many towns have these cute gettogethers?). So too letters to the editor are filled with venom.
He loses his arguement for me when he cites the clods that dominate "intelligent" discussion on tv...I would much prefer to listen to the views of the guy who bags my groceries than the people he cites on tv as talkmeisters.
posted by Postroad at 9:46 AM on March 26, 2001


This piece begins and ends with a slam against Medianews.org. He's clearly got an axe to grind there.

As for the rest, well, yeah. If you go looking for trouble online, you're sure to find it. But just because virtual communities have flame wars, should we write them all off? Only if you're as narrow-minded as this author. The end says all you need to know about him:

"I can't help but look at most online chatter the way I've always viewed rooms full of babbling strangers at big parties: as daunting, flaunting, and dishonest places I'd rather avoid."

If you see real life gatherings that way, of course virtual gatherings are going to scare the pants off you. Poor guy. Too bad he's using the Globe to vent his inadequacies.

-- D

ps - Oh, and if you have something to say about this story, I'd suggest sending a letter to the editor. Just don't flame him. ;-)

pps - Too bad there's not a boston.com forum to discuss this story, hmm? They do have an heavily guarded discussion area, though. Wonder if they'd let someone start a discussion on this story?
posted by fraying at 10:16 AM on March 26, 2001


The writer of the piece is a malcontent who thinks that those who have ideas, views to share on line are not nearly as bright or fascinating as guys that write for the newspapers.[...] He loses his arguement for me when he cites the clods that dominate "intelligent" discussion on tv.

Wow, it looks to me like you really missed the point, postroad. The comparison to the TV pundits is a negative example - illustrative of what I take to be his real point: electronic discourse enables (if not outright encourages) spouting off before thinking. Wading through the chaff to get the increasingly meagre wheat on medieanews.org - or any site that promotes community posting - gets more and more laborious as more and more people chime in. He doesn't seem to mind the conversation so much as he's reluctant to waste time reading through the opinions of people who've spent about a second-and-a-half typing their flaming response...
posted by m.polo at 10:28 AM on March 26, 2001


Ho hum.

The thing that shows the true potential of online discussion is that I can go to slashdot on posts which have gotten, say, 200 posts, change my preference to see only those posts with ratings of 4 or 5. Usually, those dozen posts are really insightful. The capacity to have users contribute to the swarm, the swarm vote what's good, and for me to come in and read the wheat separated from the chaff is where it's at.

This article can be summed up with this:

Too many people talking, and too many people talking too fast makes online discussion bad.

With moderation, and meta moderation, and mechanisms like even ol' amazon's "was this review helpful to you" feature -- online discussion can be really great, from a reader standpoint.

That is what's missing from this article.
posted by artlung at 10:51 AM on March 26, 2001


Online communities can be hell, and they can be great. A lot like, you know, the rest of life. Some people will be immature. Some communities will be stupid. Some will be cool. Sometimes you'll meet someone great. Sometimes you'll meet an asshole.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:05 AM on March 26, 2001


If you go looking for trouble online, you're sure to find it...

Exactly, fraying. If you're looking to online polls about Eminem to gague the state of online discussion, what do you expect? If you go fishing in a sewer, you're going to land some shit.
posted by jpoulos at 11:13 AM on March 26, 2001


Still don't trust anyone who uses the word "cyberspace" without irony.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2001


The online communities that I find most depressing are, in general, those which try to imitate the form of broadcast media, are run by broadcast media, or are sustained by reference to broadcast media. Nuff said.
posted by holgate at 11:18 AM on March 26, 2001


"It's hard to think of two more disparate images than the citizen rising to make an argument at town meeting and the anonymous surfer frantically flaming someone online. "

Actually, those two images don't seem disparate at all. There are often cranky assholes with axes to grind at those sorts of meetings, anxious to disrupt the proceedings either to focus on their pet peeve or simply for attention. Just the same way some people do in online communities.

My brother was just telling me how much he was enjoying an online class that he was taking, because the threaded discussion aspect of it gave students the opportunity to think out and support their responses - something they might not do in a classroom discussion. It's generally pretty easy to spot someone who is just talking to hear themselves talk (or typing to see themselves type), but unlike a live roundtable forum, you can skip over diatribes online.

Yes some people are more brave online than they are in person, which can cause them to be more 'attitudinal'. It can also cause them to speak up and voice a valid thought that they might not be comfortable enough to share in a live forum.

At the risk of sounding attitudinal myself, I think Mark Jurkowitz (heh heh) is a buttstick.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 11:19 AM on March 26, 2001


i have become really anti-'community' (and i'm putting that in quotes; i'm referring to the initiatives by sites like my employer, etc) over the past few months, and part of that i'm sure is self-interest. i work in editorial, and i really don't appreciate the fact that cost-cutters can figure out a way to bypass people like me. (cf. my bristling at the 'anyone can write' comment the other day.) because, you know what? it might be 'all good,' but my job is important. fact-checking, spell-checking, THOUGHT-checking -- all of these things are essential.

most chat and message boards initiatives are designed by people who just want one thing, and that is: pageviews. so you're going to get initiatives that aren't well thought out, and the hackles will be raised by the most polarizing thought-provokers (like the eminem question), because that's what gets knee-jerk clicking.
posted by maura at 11:24 AM on March 26, 2001


Why is it that Metafilterians can complain at length in MetaTalk about the low level of discourse and the upswing in trolling and the frequency of topic-drift among people trying to push their own agendas, but the instant someone not of the tribe says the same thing they are immediately condemned as narrow-minded reactionaries that "just don't get it"?
posted by cardboard at 11:38 AM on March 26, 2001


So, online communities are of lesser value in comparison to other information forms because a lot of the discourse is puerile trash. I guess TV is also of lesser value, given the amount of junk it broadcasts (Jerry Springer, FOX?). Oh, newspapers don't really measure up either, I guess (National Enquirer, The Star, The Weekly Shopper...). Hmmm, radio seems to fail us too (Howard Stern...). That leaves us with....smoke signals? (#$^! - causes cancer). The ultimate conclusion of his argument seems to be that communication has little value because a lot of it is bad.

Can anyone tell me how Mr. Jurkowitz's article is any different from any of the poorly reasoned flames he's complaining about (other than the fact that he was paid to write it)?
posted by dchase at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2001


Matt H has often talked about the signal vs. noise issue on discussion boards, and his moderation here definately keeps the quality up.

it comes down to chosing what type of brainfood you want, thats how i cut thru the noise of every-day-life...same thing online or with the books you read or the people you talk to.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:10 PM on March 26, 2001


This guy is exactly why the majority of the American public doesn't trust journalists. Regardless of any point he may have, he comes off as saying, "It was a better world when only we in the news media had the power of mass communication."
posted by aaron at 12:19 PM on March 26, 2001


Maura -
I can understand your frustration, but I'd say the problem there is trying to *REPLACE* the editorial functions with community efforts, rather than complimenting them.

There are actually two issues - one is communities in general (MeFi, etc.) and the other is communities as a component of a larger entity. Communities as an end in themselves can be more or less moderated, more or less topic driven - in fact can be whatever they want to be. Now, I don't want to replace CNN with webloggers, but I like the idea that there can be discourse related to a published news story (or editorial or personal profile). I also like the idea that people with specific areas of knowledge can create online communities where they can get together amongst themselves and discuss relevant topics. Share insights, etc. As a participant or an onlooker, I can weigh the merits of individual posters - and in the case of news or research driven communities I would hope that certain registration requirements are in place, so that I know if the guy telling me that the lunar landing didn't take place is a scientist from JPL or just a wingnut from Fox Programming...
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 12:26 PM on March 26, 2001


What this article does is feed the curmudgeon viewpoint of online discourse without trying figure out how to improve it's state or even recognize that an attitudinal approach is infesting all forms of media.

Here is a great and recent case in point. Read the responses below (the streaming Oscar coverage is embarrassingly funny.)

Harry was on Politically Incorrect last night and got into a somewhat heated exchange where Bill once again aired his arrogant take on online culture while slamming movies critics as well. Bill certainly is turning out to be a character.
posted by john at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2001


Weird. Right after reading this I go here.
posted by crushed at 8:49 PM on March 26, 2001


A professional troll, cool
posted by johnny novak at 12:45 PM on March 27, 2001


Professional troll? Like Andy Kaufman?
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:25 PM on March 27, 2001


Why is it that Metafilterians can complain at length in MetaTalk about the low level of discourse and the upswing in trolling and the frequency of topic-drift among people trying to push their own agendas, but the instant someone not of the tribe says the same thing they are immediately condemned as narrow-minded reactionaries that "just don't get it"?

Because there is no single MeFi voice. There are more than 4,000 voices here, full of contradictions and disagreement. I guess I'm one of those MeTa elitists, and I for one nodded my head with this Boston piece. So there.
posted by luke at 1:42 PM on March 27, 2001


So there? I see no contradiction between our two positions (even in light jest). My point is that what was said in the article has pretty much been said in the past on Metafilter, and that the posters didn't have their ideas dismissed out of hand, nor have their character systematically chopped up and used for bait for doing it.

Obviously, this was directed at those doing the dismissing and the chopping.
posted by cardboard at 3:30 PM on March 27, 2001


Because self-criticism comes with some implicit sense of caring for the community's well-being. Whereas there's no reason to think that the Globe piece isn't a hatchet job.

Surely this isn't really a hard concept to grasp. If I say "our family is messed up" in a therapy session, it's OK, I'm trying to get it to change because I care. If some yo-yo says "your family is messed up" to me on the street, I get pissed off, or at least wonder about his motives. Right?
posted by rodii at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2001


Cardboard: I was just trying to explain why people will complain in MetaTalk and how *different* people will "comdemn" such complaints when they come from the outside. It's a contradiction only if one believes MeFi has a single voice that is at all times consistent. That was your question, right?
posted by luke at 5:01 PM on March 27, 2001


Maura wrote: "it might be 'all good,' but my job is important. fact-checking, spell-checking, THOUGHT-checking -- all of these things are essential"

To which I say, indeed! I can understand your irritation completely. I think, though, that community has become in mainstream media just another cool buzzword. It's like in the past when a client would come to me and ask that I do the site in Java. Uh... what? You know not for what you ask.

I think a lot of companies who are trying to drag in the repeat viewers hope that Community(TM) will do it for them. This is very flawed thinking.

The writer of the piece exhibited online polls as a reason why community is lame. How do online polls equate community? I'd also ask that question about chat rooms which I have never been able to understand nor get into. I have chatted with one or two friends in an ICQ format but to go in a chat room and just start... chattering?

I think the key to good and successful and pleasant online communities is when people gather from across the globe, from across age groups and race, etc, to discuss a common interest. I think the writer of that piece has been ~lookin' fer nub in all de wong paces~. It's clear he hasn't found a community and he won't unless he commits to one and not a fucking chat room!

By the way, Cardboard, as a Self-Appointed Member of The Unseen Ruling Elite, I condemn you.
posted by amanda at 5:34 PM on March 27, 2001


Luke: No, I wasn't intending to ask that. My question asked why dissenters on the outside were dealt with more harshly than those on the inside in this case.

Rodii: You make a valid point on human nature, but an explanation is not a justification. Whether or not it was a hatchet job, it raised many of the same points that have been raised by our caring and nurturing members; these points should still then be valid and relevant to the community, even if they are coming from a distasteful source.
posted by cardboard at 6:01 PM on March 27, 2001


I hear you. But your question was about the *emotional* tone of the response--"why dissenters on the outside were dealt with more harshly"--and so was my answer. It's not as if the article were a reasoned, dispassionate exploration of the topic that demands a similar response.
posted by rodii at 7:47 PM on March 27, 2001


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