Thursday, November 01, 2007

On the internet and civil discussion

I belong to a worship discussion board, in which I participate with great regularity. I also read many of the message boards on one of the local newspapers (although I don't post much) in order to keep a read on how people are thinking, feeling, and responding to the issues of the day. In addition, I read a blog or two that become discussion boards as a variety of people react to the recent blog posts, sharing their opinion on the subject matter at hand.

In all three cases, it usually goes something like this:

Person A posts a thought.
Person B disagrees with the thought.
Person C jumps all over person B for disagreeing with the thought.
Person D blames it on George Bush
Person B comes back and blames it on the Liberals

And on and on it goes, with a bunch of name-calling and mud-slinging.

Now, truthfully, the worship forum isn't quite like that. Usually George Bush is left out, but the Liberals sure are eviscerated with some regularity. And the name-calling and mud-slinging is pretty much restrained, although you can read between the lines as certain people categorize others and begin to attack them ad hominem.

The point, however, is this: I can't think of one time in any of these groups when anybody has actually said "wow - I never thought of that before. I think I'll change my position on the issue." The sides are so quickly drawn, and then victory the only outcome, so that it all becomes about undermining the other position and showing them for the idiots they are, rather than actually listening to others and learning from them. It would be funny, if it weren't so sad.

I'm always hoping to learn from others. And I'm hoping somebody might learn something from me. Instead, any and every opinion is dissected, labeled, attacked, ridiculed. . .but never actually engaged. Even in the worship board. Sure, some may get ideas for new songs and ideas on which amp to hook up to which effects processor. . .but when it comes to theology or underlining philosophies, it's pretty much the same. I'm still waiting for somebody to say "Wow - thanks! I never saw that before!"

So my question - is this simply the nature of internet message boards? Or is this true of society in general? Does the internet somehow cause us to lose a learning spirit? Does it by nature draw people who are wise in their own eyes? Or have we as a culture reached the place where people refuse to accept the possibility that they might learn something from someone else?

Anybody have an opinion?


lambservant said...

Dan, I saw this verse on the covenant website and thought of your entry for today.
"Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." 2 Timothy 2:22-26 TNIV

Anonymous said...

(Susan) I belong to a couple of forums and I have to admit I've dropped out of them for the most part - for many of the reasons you mention. It seemed to always be "I have the right to post my view & opinions because they are accurate & true & based on fact." Then someone else jumps in, "Except your views & opinions don't agree with mine, and I know mine are accurate and true & based on fact so you must be very wrong, and we all know wrong = evil, anit-american, etc." Then everyone jumps all over everyone else and soon you've lost the entire focus of the comment & are off on some personal-attack tangent & taking sides. Ridiculous.

Kim said...

Person D blames it on George Bush
Person B comes back and blames it on the Liberals

HAHAHAHA!!!!!! I'm sorry, I just wanted you to know thought that was supremely funny.

Honestly, Dan, I think you have it right - civil discourse on the internet is virtually non-existant. I believe the internet is no substitution for face-to-face conversation. I'd go even further and say that many people who troll message boards and blogs looking for a platform to "be right" probably don't have any friends they can sit down and have coffee and any sort of in-depth conversation with.

Hmmmm...I wonder why that is? Hmmmmm.....

Wes said...

I have a theory that applies to message boards, freeway traffic and any other interaction between people where there is an artificial barrier.

People behave differently when they are alone. When there is no one to offend, we act accordingly. There's no reason to remain polite or considerate when no one is looking.

I'm making a huge assumption here of course, using my own experience to draw the conclusion, but hey, it's my theory so I'll go with it. Freeway traffic and message boards reinforce my theory.

When we are alone in our cars or typing on our keyboards we can disassociate the people from the medium in which we are interacting with them. There are other “cars” on the road, and the opinions on a message board do not require us to consider the person that wrote them before we respond.

In the car and at the keyboard we have created an artificial solitude.

When we interact with people in person it’s a very different matter of course. It’s harder to ignore our impact on another when we can see the reaction on their face.

I’ve spent the last several years telecommuting and it requires me to effectively communicate with my coworkers via email and instant messages. The technology is amazing and I am truly blessed to be able to live in the Lakebay community and continue in my career field. However I don’t think I could manage to do it successfully without the lessons faith has taught me, and in this area in particular.

Faith has taught me that I am never alone. When I am tempted to cut that person off on the freeway to get into the lane that’s moving faster I don’t have the luxury of pretending there’s no person behind the wheel. Faith reminds me to consider the consequences of my actions regardless of the venue.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of replying to a “thread” rather than to the person that wrote it.