Being mean

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I read Nick Carr’s Rough Type on a more or less regular basis. I don’t always agree with him, but I like the fact that he takes the time to write longer, more in-depth postings. He’s also one of the few, it seems, who can be critical of Web 2.0 stuff, but still remain somewhat of an insider. I study how he manages this; somewhat like the anthropologist studying the aboriginal customs of stretching ear lobes and jumping off towers with really bad bungee cords.

I’ve found he can write with an edge at times, but I’ve never seen him be overly personal in his writings. Perhaps the postings where he is, fell on my ‘not reading Web 2.0 weblogs’ days.

I was surprised, then, of what he wrote of an altercation that happened on the Gillmore Gang podcast. It seems that regular member Mike Arrington resigned from the show, unexpectedly and on the air, because Steve Gillmore invited Nick Carr to appear. Of this, Arrington writes:

Nick’s been on two shows now. The first one I quickly dropped off, the second one, yesterday, I stayed until the end. I have a problem with Nick. I think he’s smart but he’s often overly cruel to people in his posts, people who sometimes aren’t in a position to defend themselves. I get the sense that he enjoys pulling people down, gets happiness out of it. He shows all the classic signs of a bully – he talks big on his blog but on the phone he’s a meek, submissive guy. He can’t stand up to people who stand up to him unless he’s hiding behind his blog. Guys like Nick are a dime a dozen on the Internet and until now I just basically ignored him. But I won’t be on a weekly podcast with the guy. If Nick is on the show, I’m not on it.

Long ago I made the choice not to associate with people who are mean to others. They can attack me all they want (Jason Calacanis does, and he’s on the show, and I have no problem with that). But when you are mean to other people it just makes my blood boil. It probably comes from watching too many kids get picked on in junior high.

Nick Carr mean. I went searching on these words, “Nick Carr mean” and found several older controversies, and a newer writing over at Paul Kedrosky’s. In that post, Kedrosky wrote:

I’m hesitant to write this, because like paying attention to a child who stomps his feet or holds his breath, it just encourages him, but I’ll do it anyway: While I generally like Nick Carr — he’s a graceful and thoughtful writer — he has become tiresome and reflexively contrarian.

He did it recently with a sensationalized piece on the death of Wikipedia, and he did it again with a silly hatchet job on Steve Rubel, and he’s doing it again today with a studiedly awry piece on l’affaire O’Reilly.

I actually rather liked what Carr wrote about what Rubel wrote. The question is: was it mean?

I can agree with Kedrosky in that Carr can be confrontational and controversial and probably likes the attention he gets with either, but the same can be said, most likely, of Kedrosky. It can most definitely be said of Mike Arrington, and that’s where this returns.

If you took the time to listen or watch the video that Kevin Marks posted on Mike Arrington’s “core values” session, and if you know me, it’s not hard to understand why I find Arrington, and people like Arrington, to be disturbing. In the video he talks of core values and being nice to each other, as he cut off Liz Henry when she was trying to make a counter-point. When Elisa Camahort tried to defend Henry’s right to speak, she, in turn, was shut down by Dave Winer. Ostensibly, the reason Winer gave later is that discussions leads were supposed to keep people from meandering on, but I watched as they let Chris Pirrilo chatter away for the longest time–and I like Chris, and I liked what he had to say, but it was very obvious that the discussion was poorly managed, with weight given to the ‘knowns’ versus the unknowns. More importantly, weight was given to those who said what Arrington wanted to hear.

This makes me unhappy. This isn’t about being mean or nice. This is about control. This is about shutting down independent voices, and doing so under the guise of Shiny, Happy People. This is terribly wrong; made more so by the fact that it’s so easily bought into.

When I didn’t weblog, I watched as people were shut down because they would question, they would be critical, because many times their views were contrary to the ‘speak as one voice’ crowd. I watched people respond to such criticism in a personal way; against Seth Finkelstein and Dave Rogers, most recently. Why? Because Finkelstein and Rogers are critical. More than that, sometimes they’re critical of the opinions of really nice people. It puzzles me, because I would think that the really nice people would welcome the criticism–after all, it does show interest in what you’re writing.

Being personal in response is a superior treatment, though, to the worst you can do to the person, which is shut them down. Agree as a group not to give notice, not to respond, not to acknowledge; resign when they’re invited to a podcast; ignore what they say in a discussion. God, somebody please tell me, in simple terms, how shutting people down is nice? Was there a global meeting held where the definition of ‘nice’ was extended to include the practice of exclusion? Did everyone suddenly become Amish or Scientologists? I await enlightenment on this one, because I don’t understand it.

I started the Bb Gun primarily because I wanted a place where I could be comfortably critical without such strong identification with being critical. I am more than just a Web 2.0 critic. It’s a part of me, but I am more. This issue, though, it goes to the core of me, and thus I write about it here.

There’s another reason I write about this issue here. It would seem, now, with both Carr and Arrington saying they won’t appear on Steve Gillmore’s Gillmore Gang that there are openings in the podcast. I also noticed that there’s a strong similarity between those who do participate, and I thought this would be a devine time for Mr. Gillmore to add some diversity to his show.

Perhaps the Gillmore gang could consider those who might extend the profile of the show participants just a tad away from the strongly enthnocentric makeup of its current cast of regulars. The leaders of the discussions on audio casting, tagging, audience building, and so on at the Blogher conference would be ideal candidates.

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