Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Social Aspects of Blogging

Whenever you write something that contains a number of paragraphs and tries to have some kind of point, and you see a flame-war starting about one word in the writing (which by definition is misinterpreted because it's taken totally out of context), you remember how weird people are on the Internet.

People who in live conversation can't articulate more than a few ambiguous statements while struggling hard not to look at you --- well, all of a sudden these people develop big and aggressive Internet personas, they start having strong opinions etc, of course all expressed under the strict veil of anonymity.

And there are the entirely normal, decent people, who still can't help flaming on the Internet. After all, in person and non-anonymously, there is a higher cost to jumping at someone's throat, and you stop and think --- did I actually pay attention to what he's saying, did I try to find the point behind the statement as opposed to jumping at form? Anonymously, on Web 2.0, the cost is null, so there's not much incentive to stop and think.

No matter what you think of my own opinions (which of course are hardly new or concealed from the general public), you will agree with me that it is sad to see statements that begin with "You are entitled to your opinion," and end with:

You really ought to pay more attention to filtering out your ambition-induced half-baked biased perceptions about the world you are privileged to have around you.
Dear anonymous commenter, sorry to say, but this sounds too much like a 5-year old with tears in his eyes. I can't believe you're wasting so much mental energy getting so worked up over word-choice in a blog. Come on!

The same goes to whoever is writing detailed meta-theories on what Mihai actually thinks and says. Don't you have better things to do? I'm actually sorry to waste your time on this --- especially since it's likely you're totally decent people in live conversation, whom I might actually enjoy talking to.

I, for one, have better things to do than agonize about how to make my posts misinterpretation-proof. If you continue reading, which by the way you don't have to, then you implicitly agree that things will be rough around the edges.

When I originally started blogging, one of the motivations was that I could communicate a message much more effectively. That sort of works for technical issues, but I am now convinced that it mostly fails for "social" issues. The cost of getting annoyed over the Internet is so low, that everything degenerates into useless quarreling, which changes few opinions. In addition, ignoring whatever doesn't quite match your own perception is very easy. In the best case, you remember that "Mihai thinks that," but you never fully internalize the argument as in face-to-face discussion.

So, as I have done for several months now, I will limit social commentary on the blog. Of course, since I never take principles entirely seriously, you can be assured that personal opinions will pop up every once in a while.


rgrig said...

Making your statements hard to misinterpret is probably a good skill to have. For one, it will allow you to spread your "social" ideas, which you seem unable to do now without starting flame-wars.

Vivi said...

Mihai, blogs are fairly powerful tools for expressing ideas. I agree with rgrig, I think proofreading your posts is worthwhile, specially in the long run.

I think it's worth taking the time to prove your points and express them in such a way that make people think instead of blindly rejecting them as arrogant and dumb. I only say this as a blogger that has been through this. :-)

Anonymous said...

What would you think of the title "Social Aspects of Research" for this thread... it seems from my (limited) view on CS/math research that the fact that researchers know each other can be a great joy since you essentially get to solve interesting and hard problems with friends. The flip side would seem to be that word of people doing something silly spreads very quickly.

That's one reason to be speak more about facts than opinions... also the inevitable administrative aspects of our future jobs may be less difficult for those who can choose their words wisely.

For one, I am about to obtain some practice at careful wording: asking the organizers of my frisbee league to override a game where my team "defaulted"!

w said...

I, for one, have better things to do than agonize about how to make my posts misinterpretation-proof. If you continue reading, which by the way you don't have to, then you implicitly agree that things will be rough around the edges.

Anyone who speaks to the public has a responsibility, and this is especially true for researchers. Calling a conference "worthless" will hurt its reputation, and raises other questions. (Is it justified to spend valuable tax-money on this conference?) IMHO it is important to think about the consequences of our actions, and many bloggers (who by definition seek publicity), should take this more seriously.

Anonymous said...

OK, OK. We all know that SWAT is worthless. But how do you feel about the Canadian Conference on Computational Geometry?

Mihai said...

Philipp, it's justified to spend tax money on workshops, and SWAT is clearly at least a good workshop.