Saturday, October 07, 2006

Reasonable Response

The vast majority of people making blogs and podcasts probably don’t make any money from their efforts. But for many of us, that’s not what it’s about, anyway.

As blogs and podcasts have evolved, many have done so with an ethos of cooperation and contribution. Certainly the blogs I read and the podcasts I listen to the most are in that category, and there’s not one that doesn’t invite feedback, discussion and contribution from the “audience”. In so doing, it’s redefined the relationship between “content provider” and “audience” so that at any given time either can switch roles.

This allows us all to try on new ideas, or new approaches to old ones, to discuss and refine and discuss some more and to do so no matter how much distance is between us. This has got to be a good thing for the spread of global democracy. But it’s also pretty exciting to be able to share and discuss ideas with people in many walks of life in many parts of the world. In this one aspect, at least, the world is a global village and we’re all hanging out in the village square.

A couple posts ago, I was talking about being an expat and not an “ex-pat”. That discussion was inspired, in part, by a podcast I listen to called The Gay Expat in which he discussed this topic. He, in turn, read my post, then read it aloud on his podcast (GEP24).

This felt a little surreal to me because I can’t remember ever hearing anyone reading aloud something I’ve written. Okay, maybe a teacher when I was a kid, but not since I became an adult.

More importantly, however, this reinforced for me the collaborative nature of the Internet now, through blogging and podcasting and feedback to them. By using our blogs or podcasts to talk about things others say in their blogs or podcasts, we widen the discussion beyond simply comment/reply in one place to a more robust discussion going on in several places at once, all looping back and forth and interconnecting in many interesting ways.

So, to further this looping of discussion, in another part of The Gay Expat’s GEP24 he talks about the nature of discussion on the Internet, looking at whether behaviours are any different in different cultures.

“The Internet reflects what the Internet is to different cultures,” he begins. “In the US, the Internet is a place to vent and debate without the usual conversational barriers, such as political correctness, the feeling that one needs to sanitise their conversations to be nice and not offend people.” Because of this, US Internet discussions can be more extreme and personal than ordinary speech might be.

I’d agree with that, but it’s not limited to the US. I’ve scratched around a few New Zealand blogs, and on several I’ve found the sorts of personal attacks that he says are common on some US sites. Admittedly, I don’t always know the country of origin of the person writing the responses I saw, but since the sites were dealing specifically with NZ politics, I’d guess that most Americans don’t even know they exist, much less take an interest in them.

Personally, I’d prefer the sort of fact-based discussions filled with decorum that The Gay Expat says are common on French Francophone sites. Pity I don’t speak French. But I also have to admit that—up to a point—I don’t mind an intense discussion, either. The limit for me is reached when people are personally belittled like a schoolyard bully would do. Stick to the facts, be truthful, and I don’t really mind how forcefully the ideas are expressed, though before they enter a discussion people really should try and read as deeply as The Gay Expat has found French readers do.

But a little discussion is better than none, and if that discussion isn’t quite as well informed or as dispassionate as I might like, I’ll take what I can get. After all, there are a growing number of us who value reasonable response and can help to rein in those who don’t.

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