For all of its promise, the Internet does not appear to have improved discourse between people. It's done wonders for organizing and uniting people of like mind, but as far as bridging gaps with this new means of communication, we haven't seen it. But maybe we haven't been patient enough. It wasn't until my colleague, Jane, pointed it out that I saw the Imus story in the context of what appears to be a new examination of the state of social discourse.
Two stories in this past Sunday's New York Times serve as a helpful framework. "A call for manners in the world of nasty blogs" is the continuation of the Kathy Sierra death threat story. Some members of the online community are drafting a bloggers' code of conduct and there's a further idea that bloggers can identify the degree of civility they're willing to endorse by marking their blog with the appropriate badge.
For what it's worth, as a blogger I think it's a ridiculous idea and I won't be participating. I don't mind anonymous comments if you have something worthwhile to say. If you don't have anything worthwhile to say, I won't approve your comment even if you do put your name on it. (And sometimes even worthwhile comments that aren't quite relevant or that speak more to other commenters than what I've written don't get approved. People can start their own blog and say whatever they want and no matter how many happy badges I put on my blog, I can't do anything about that.)
As many online have pointed out, bloggers don't need a special code. Bloggers are humans, so regular standards of decency already apply - not to mention legal standards for libel and threats. It's ironic that some A List bloggers who are constantly preaching (to mainstream media in particular) about what bloggers are and what bloggers do are now trying to explain that bloggers are regular people who don't need special rules. To read the coverage of blogging over the past few years, you could be forgiven for thinking bloggers are some special social class or new species of superhuman.
Though I'm sympathetic to the charge that the New York Times was just looking for an opportunity to paint online volunteer journalists as "the world of nasty blogs," I'm going to stick with my thesis that we are engaged in an examination of public discourse. I'd like to see Scoble's proposal of looking at how women are treated in the tech community pursued, and Dave Winer's idea of actually trying to disperse an online mob before it does its damage is downright revolutionary. When have you ever heard that? Everyone laments the mob but most see it as a necessary evil to the wonders of the Internet's organizing ability.
The second prong in the Times' stab at public incivility (and second attack on web culture as a socially destabilizing force of evil) points to a new level of heckling of performers.
The article cites increased online participation and how the behavior there bleeds into real world public conduct. In my experience, it's online anonymity that fosters incivility so, as long as theories are being tossed around, I propose that our solitary culture of quiet TV watching and solo car driving does just as much to sap us of our human decency as anonymous Web commenting. Furthermore, as much as we endure the hyping of "your participation" in online media, to my mind the cultural narcissism that makes people think everyone needs to hear their opinion is more rooted in the exploitation of pro-democracy propagandizing. The American Idol "we care what you think" mantra isn't an extension of the participatory Web, it's an extension of the march of American democracy to save the world.
But I digress. The Internet may not have ushered in a new age of brotherhood and understanding through communication, but it has certainly given us ample material for study of how we treat each other, and that may be an important first step.
Speaking of the Imus story, coverage is already quite deep but I can add just a bit of color. It's odd to come to work with protestors in front of the building, even if it's only two and the one holding the "apology not accepted" sign said hello as I walked in.
The reactions of Al Roker and Ron Allen are pretty remarkable in the context of online media to say nothing of the weight of their opinions themselves. The fact that Roker can call for the firing of someone who is arguably his co-worker in such a public way on the company's own site is surely worth a footnote in the history of media transparency.
Scuttlebutt about Alison Stewart's reaction has yet to reach me, but since she is the most prominent of the many African American women who work in this building (where Imus broadcasts) I look forward to learning her thoughts. Hopefully she'll find time to similarly put them in print.
By the way, have you actually seen the offending clip? In all of this coverage I haven't seen it anywhere (though admittedly I only watch cable news at work, and then mostly only one channel.) This particular version has an added bit on the end of a guy named Billy Packer using a
gay slurBritishism with Charlie Rose (I have no idea why it's attached to the end of the Imus clip).
I'm somewhat disappointed to see that along with the Imus story, with its theme about respecting women, two other big stories in today's new cycle are that the Girls Gone Wild guy has been arrested and DNA tests finally reveal who the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby is, all capped by a promo for a new documentary series about models that features women stripping down to what looks like bathing suits or maybe underwear. Yes, clearly we've learned a lesson about respecting women.
Speaking of how the tech community relates to women, How dating my ex was like playing DOOM II on nightmare mode
Still speaking of how gamers relate to women, this has hoax written all over it but the story of a woman trading sex for World of Warcraft money is making the rounds. NOTE: This is a YTMND link, which always comes with flash music that loops with no off button. Hit mute first, then click. Here's the link. UPDATE: OK, they got hacked. Here's part of the image with no music. There was another image that was her follow-up saying she was successful in her acquisition. I'll put the original link back when they fix it.
Oh what the heck, one more... Are You Raising Another Man's Child?
Speaking of mainstream stories from the weekend papers that made a big splash online, The Washington Post got one of the world's greatest violin players to perform in a D.C. subway station to see how many people noticed that they had quality music in their midst. Surprise, hardly anyone noticed. The writer's discussion of his story is also a popular link.
And speaking of the isolating effects of television, Ten Financial Reasons To Turn Off Your Television - And Ten Things To Replace It With
I keep running into Mehmet Ozgur's smoke photos on arts sites and general "neat-o" sites. Coming soon to a college dorm poster near you.
The world's top 20 most livable cities - The closest American city is Honolulu at #27.
Since some folks are growling their way through those little newsprint books, Tax Freedom Day is April 30th this year. I'd never heard of it before. It's the theoretical day that the American workforce covers the year's tax burden and keeps the money it makes.
Backhoe row - My first thought was that it would be really inefficient to row a boat with a backhoe, but it probably does give a really big push.
Speaking of quick clips, Does web video have to be short? My first answer was yes, because something like this video of a V8 engine block being machined from a solid cube of metal is just too long. But part of the point in the blog entry is that if Tivo can ingest your Web video and make a playlist for you, does that change how long you're willing to sit and watch?
Not quite a global warming denial but pretty close. My favorite line is also my least favorite: "The current alarm rests on the false assumption not only that we live in a perfect world, temperaturewise, but also that our warming forecasts for the year 2040 are somehow more reliable than the weatherman's forecast for next week." I'm always up for bashing the weathermen who slowly change the forecast for tomorrow as tomorrow gets closer and even then get it wrong. I'm even open to the suggestion that the earth might do better or just as well at a slightly warmer temperature. But my understanding of the current alarm is that the change itself is the problem. That change is what causes erratic weather and a shift in the jet stream and that's what's so potentially catastrophic.
Speaking of bad science, here's a disturbing story of "post hoc coincidence detection" and the dangers of bad math. The probability that a woman committed a series of murders is miscalculated and then combined with some cart before the horse reasoning to get a woman a lifetime conviction. (The point isn't that she's innocent, just that the case isn't constructed correctly.)