Interwebs and Drama: Why is the WWW not like the water cooler

First off. Hi. How’ve ya been? Sorry for being MIA for the last couple weeks. And also, did you miss me? I am almost done my 9 week condensed course and I am also close to being out of my funk. Therefore, I believe/hope my hiatus from the interwebs is coming to a close. So today, I write a post for your consideration:

Every time I log in to twitter, drama seems to be a-brewing. Drama seems, in fact, to dominate much of the conversation. Now I don’t know if this is true of other blogging communities, but those of us who fall into the “Mommy Blogging” community, seem particularly dominated by the drama.

(First, let me admit right now, that is part of why I login. I am bothered by but moth-to-flame when it comes to debate/drama. Same reason I like reality TV.)

I have been blogging and on twitter since about February. In that time span I have seen up-tine “tweet storms” break out. The big ones? Breastfeeding/Formula feeding, Nestle, blogher and diapers. (Diapers. Seriously. Just how do you get drama from diapers?) Most of these dramas, in my opinion, regardless of the importance of the topic, are ridiculous. Nothing deep, profound and meaningful is being debated in those 140 characters. It’s just mud slinging.

Sometimes, in the comments to blog posts, we get some meaningful debate and exchange of ideas. But usually, it is one person with REALLY strong not-going-to-budge opinions which run counter to the majority of readers so it turns in to a go-no-where debate. More intelligent then mud slinging but no more productive. (Not that I turn down participating in those debates, as I say, I just can’t help myself.)

Many people talk about how society and community is moving online. In some ways, this is a good thing. People with different backgrounds and beliefs are being brought together. You talk with people you would never get a chance to meet in real life. And it is amazing how a community can develop around a dozen blogs, whose writers all read each others stuff. Especially when we have the shared experience of having young kids. (Ah guys, I just love you all!).

Well this is all great, I think it also has it’s downsides. Think about it… a lot of online twitter/blog talk is really “water cooler talk”. The topics that people blog about: politics, movies, food, parenting, education, technology, ect are the things that people used to only really talk about around the water cooler or the dinner table. I am not saying this to diminish their importance. Sure, sometimes water cooler talk is ‘small talk’ but often it is a place where we exchange our opinions on really important things. Sure, there are a few ‘lets not go there’ topics, but there is still lots of room for interesting and meaningful discussion.

I know some people feel that blogging is a form of social activism and I agree and think it can be. Others would say blogging is a part of the media, and I guess that is true too. But your average blog is not read by millions. The community of readers is more then the number of people you could fit around the water cooler, but most blogs will not be “mass media.”

The difference is that well people may have debated around the water cooler, I think most of the time the tone of the conversation wasn’t that of the online twitter and blog post comment we see in the online communities. At the water cooler people disagree with each other. Nothing more. Online the situation quickly escalates to an all-out snarkey battle. The polite rules of the water cooler don’t apply. Why? Because you aren’t speaking to someone’s face, you don’t know them, and you don’t have to finish that work project with them by next week. So, we let loose and say what we ‘really’ think. Why not? What are the consequences?

Why am I writing this? I don’t know, because it is interesting. And a little concerning. IF society’s mode of debate and conversation is moving online, then this shift in tone is concerning, I think. If every important conversation is downgraded to a mud slinging contest- how are we going to get anywhere? There are some pretty serious things we need to figure out in our society/country(s) and 140 characters just isn’t doing it for me.

Or maybe it isn’t that different at all? I mean, I have seen a couple town hall/debates in person and many on the news, which deteriorate pretty quickly into a very unproductive conversations.

So then, I guess the question is what do we need to happen so we can have meaningful conversation and actually get some things dealt with?

I don’t know. Thoughts?

(Also. Media. You aren’t helping. As there is only a handful of you left that actually report in a way that is informative and while not without bias (as I am not sure that exists) at least acknowledges the bias and tries to present all sides of the story. For most of you, its all about entertainment or sensationalizing a story. Booo. )

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9 responses to “Interwebs and Drama: Why is the WWW not like the water cooler

  1. Brooke June 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I find blog comments to be mostly productive. But have you ever read comments to news stories?! It’s absolutely ridiculous. Everyone can now have an equally important opinion even if they are completely ignorant about the way the world operates. I’m not saying there aren’t different opinions. But there is also wrong… and sometimes these people are wrong about the world. And you just can’t debate with stupid.

    • amoment2think June 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm

      Ha! Yes, I always say you can’t argue with crazy or toddlers. I will now add stupid to the list.

      And yes, I would agree that blog comments are usually productive and only sometimes completely non-productive. But I remember the non-productive over the productive and well, I wrote this post this weekend…. and you know the gong show that went down on a mutually frequented blog….. productive that conversation was not.

  2. clara June 20, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I was thinking about this recently as well. It is so interesting that we say things online we wouldn’t say to another human’s face. In my case, since I’m a SAHM, my water cooler is the playground and I am in no way going to jeopardize my community (or my kids’ community) by calling someone out on something that’s just a difference of opinion. Which is most things.

    Like people who talk to their toddlers in squeaky weeeky voices. I don’t do that, I wish you wouldn’t but I know I”m going to see you again tomorrow at the next park and maybe our toddlers will end up in kindergarten together so…I am going to make an effort. An effort I don’t have to make online..my community is carefully selected and I don’t go places that make me crazy (except those news articles Brooke mentioned)

    …no conclusions, just a curiosity around where we’ll be in 20 years if we all act in real life like we do online…or if vanishing privacy etc. dictates that we act online like we do in real life.

    • amoment2think June 21, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      I think you make a good point about the ability to select your online community versus your playground or work community. You likely won’t change where you live based on a couple families who drive you nuts over some issue or an other. But you would stop visiting a blog where you found the positions presented to be continually offensive. (Or, if you are like me and a bit of a glutton for punishment, you check them anyway because you feel some strange need to know what people who you disagree with are talking about….)

      Anyway, good point. I am also very curious to see where this is all going. I wonder too how the vanishing privacy might impact the conversation.

  3. Cheryl June 21, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Interesting read. I’ve often found myself wanting to comment on things that I know will just get me riled up and wonder why. Why does it matter to me what random strangers think of a news story? Sometimes I force myself to walk away. Other times, commenting on something important and engaging in a conversation is worth a little frustration.
    The anonymity we have online makes us all a little braver, bolder and more outspoken than we would be face to face. Where that will take us is hard to answer. The normal rules of civility and courtesy should still apply.

    • amoment2think June 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      Yeah, that is one I struggle with…. I often find myself not being able to walk away.

      But you also make a good point- there is some benefit to the anonymity making us braver and those out there who tend not to speak up– their thoughts and view points are often quite valuable and needed in the conversation.

  4. Perpetua June 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    “IF society’s mode of debate and conversation is moving online, then this shift in tone is concerning, I think.”

    This is such a good point. The old rules don’t apply, but we don’t have new rules yet. So what we end up with is a big ‘ol mess.

    Personally, I feel more accountable because we do have our little community here, and while I could morph into a jerk overnight and then disappear, I’d be losing out on a lot. So I try to be as considerate in virtual space as I am in real space. But that certainly doesn’t seem to apply to the online world at large (some of the stuff that goes down on Anna’s blog makes me cringe).

    • amoment2think June 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm

      I think that is the key. If you wouldn’t say it in real life to your neighbour or co-worker, why would you say it online?

      I think that also cuts the other way. I know I have said things here on this blog that if I said in real life to my neighbour or co-worker they would totally get what I said. But said here on the ‘public’ space that is the interwebs, that same thing said was taken the wrong way (or at least not how it was intended). So we are both held to a lower and higher standard of communicating at the same time, I think.

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