Believing in tooth fairies

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

This is a long post, and please bare with me because much of the stage setting occurred elsewhere and I’ll be pulling the pieces into this writing.

Triggered by my Community Member or Writer post, Dave Winer wrote a post and Marc Canter additional comments, and Joi Ito wrote a brief entry in his weblog pointing to another entry to his Live Journal weblog:

This is not interesting unless you’re tuned into the blogsphere sit-com so I’m posting my thoughts on my Live Journal.

In the Live Journal entry, Joi seems to be more interested in discussing Marc Center’s and Dave Winer’s comments than my essay, basically just linking to it, the other comments, and then writing:

I think that the power to agree that something is tasteless is just as sacred as the “power to offend”. How silly.

A clarification: I didn’t comment, specifically, on what Joi or any of the others said. I commented on the fact that Marc pulled, or I had perceived him pulling a photo based on what several people said, and pointed out the fact these same people had just attended a Digital Democracy Teach-In. This tied in with my own thoughts lately about community membership and being a writer, and how the two are not always compatible.

This started a chain of comments associated with Joi’s post that went in very interesting directions.

(this post is killing my MT installation… that’s why the divide into extended, but even that won’t take…)

First, Halley Suitt wrote:

Joi = Wrote about this … it’s really complicated I think and has important ramifications in the study of what social software is and is not. See “The Star You Are” on my site. It was good to see you in San Diego.

I don’t know about ’social software’, study thereof. Could care less about ’social software’, study thereof. But Halley did focus on the broader issue. She was the only one.

Next two comments focused purely on the personal aspects of the discussion, the he said/he said stuff. Not the discussion about community member and writer.

I then wrote:

Unfortunately, some people have focused on the example I used rather than the discussion about being a community member as compared to being a writer. They tend to read the sentences where there name is located, and ignore the rest. I find that rather interesting, myself.

I guess if you want to classify this discussion as a ’sit-com’, and somehow ‘demean’ it by discussing in Livejournal (that’s my take based on your words and actions, which provide an interesting story about your opinion of these spaces), your choice.

But thank you for telling me what I wrote wasn’t interesting. I find this more ably demonstrates the points of my writing, even better than the example I provided.

Mel wrote a courteous reply:

I took Joi’s use of the word “this” to mean this whole imbroglio (the Marc Canter matter). And he’s right; this is *not* interesting unless you’re following the ongoing saga of Orkut and friends. I do find it interesting because it brings up a lot of questions that are important in online life – how to express judgement and stay civilised. So much harder online because we don’t know the levels of peoples anger, humor, etc. over any given comment. I can safely say I feel totally neutral about the MC matter – I can see both Danah’s side and Marcs (although I’m more leaning on Danah’s side because I’m a woman and I felt some of the same things looking at that image!).

Appreciations for courtesy, but again, nothing to do with the broader discussion.

Joi responded, both in emails to me and in a comment with:

Shelley, I did not mean to imply that your discussion about community vs writer was uninteresting. It’s a broader issue that I am interested in, but one where I would probably have an easier time discussing when I wasn’t tangled up in like this incident.

I put it in Live Journal, because I’m going to play around there writing more personal stuff where I’m going to think less about the audience. I don’t think it’s demeaning. Just want to keep winey stuff off of my main blog.

The main thing I was reacting to was Dave’s comment about the “right to be offensive” which seemed silly to me. Also, I thought it was sort of silly characterizing my comments on danah’s blog as an “attack” or some sort of obstruction of free speech. Does that cut both ways? What about my right to say what I feel about what I read?

I think it is sit-com-like, because unless you know danah and Marc, it’s really difficult to understand the context and how it’s just part of an on-going thing…

Anyway, if it sounded like I was belittling or deaming the bigger question you ask about community vs writing, I’m sorry.

Joi did acknowledge the larger issue, but according to him, he felt he could not address it because it was wrapped up in this personal exchange. That’s an important point to remember as I continue copying and pasting.

(We’ll leave aside the equally interesting comment about Live Journal.)

Cory Doctorow then entered the comments with:

Well, of *course* there’s a “right to be offensive.” Popular speech never needs defending.

The problem appears to be a claimed “right to be offensive without offending anyone.”

I’ve held and espoused my share of offensive views. I never expected that they wouldn’t offend anyone.

Free speech ethos protect *debate* about opinions, but are neutral as the to the relative value of this opinion or that.

When someone espouses an opinion and meets with opposition, that’s free speech in action.

To say that the “right to be offensive” is abridged by those who take offense is to miss the point in a pretty fundamental way.

I have to assume that Cory didn’t even read what I wrote and was responding to Joi’s comments and Dave Winer’s comments and Marc Canter’s comments (are we beginning to see a trend here?).

I responded with:

Interesting comments. Deja vu, all over again. And in this order, too…

Mel, I agree with you in your assessment of ‘this’, but I have no idea why Orkut would be involved.

Joi, whatever personal squabbles are involved with this are incidental to what I wrote. However, when I see what I carefully wrote lumped together with offhand remarks, and then you address only the offhand remarks, I can only interpret this to mean that what I wrote, or my opinion, does not weight as much in this discussion. I’m sure you didn’t mean to belittle what I wrote, and the larger issue – but as it stands now, at least within your circle of acquaintances, I don’t see any hope of salvaging the larger discussion.

Cory, the issue is not people being offended – good lord, this is weblogging. Have you read LGF?

The issue is when people adjust what they write in order not to offend community; or more strategically, to not risk offending the more influential members of the community. People with more influence because of higher link ratings. Such as Joi. Such as you.

Taking this to another context, we say that weblogs are the new ‘honest’ medium, without the external influences that Big Media experiences. I say that incidents of this nature demonstrate that weblogging has its own external influences that interfere with a writer’s honesty.

Joi, you say you want to address this separately. But you can’t, because I used the Marc/Danah/comments thing as an example, and that makes it difficult to separate the two. You can’t draw attention to that which you found interesting, without also drawing attention to that which you found personally distasteful. There is a community element interfering with a broader issue, and this impacts on what you write.

That is the core of my essay.

And as I said, I’m sure you didn’t mean to belittle, Joi. I can understand with the nature of some of the comments addressed about you why you would want to push back.

While not necessarily satisfying, this has been a very enlightening conversation.

Now this time Cory did actually hear me, but his response was, I thought, fascinating:

So, the right to offend is only abridged when offense is taken and noted by some people, and not others? And it is reserved to the “uninfluential?”

The last time I checked, the Internet and its many blogs were chock-a-block with things that offended me. I’ve been pretty vocal about some of those things. Sure hasn’t seemed to make a dent in the prevalence of those sentiments.

More to the point, though: Is the argument here that before venturing an opinion or criticizing someone, I should first consult Technorati and make sure that my subject and I share similar linked-to-ness? By this metric, it seems that Marc (who is a prominent figure in the history and present day of the net) should take a back seat to danah (who is a graduate student) – after all, his influence surely trumps hers.

It seems to me that measuring one’s “influence” is a silly way of evaluating one’s argument.

(I don’t know what LGF stands for, so I’m not sure if I’ve read it)

It’s as if Cory couldn’t work beyond that which impacted directly on him. Or that he could only see himself as being the one in control of the outcome of the discussion, when what I wrote is the opposite. This is born out later when Cory wrote (after a couple of clarifications from Mel about the Orkut insertion):

Put another way: I suspect that the relative truth of, “It would be easier to express myself if the people who disagree with me would keep their mouths shut,” is completely unrelated to the number of people who’ve linked to your blog – and is a poor principle for fostering free expression.

At this point, another person sent a trackback to this Joi’s post about Wil Wheaten using his influence to help at a breast cancer event. This person, who goes by Tie-Dyed wrote:

Joi, the mention in this entry might seem a bit of a barb, but please don’t take it so. If it wasn’t for you and the blogging pioneers, none of us would be doing this. Just don’t forget the rest of us, OK?

Joi responded with:

Tie-Dyed: No worries. I’m not really upset or anything. Just trying to understand the logic at this point. Cory’s already said it, but I guess my question is how people expect us to behave? Hanging out with friends, reacting to comments about me and commenting about how I feel about things that other people have posted seem like pretty normal things to do. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed to do this.

Anyway, this is kind of a rathole. I would also rather spend my time marching against cancer than arguing over the right to be offensive.

Then Cory:

I think the cancer thing is a gigantic red herring, FWIW. Wil – whom I count as a friend – is doing fantastic work and good on him, but he’s hardly a monk who has devoted his days and nights to doing good deeds. He, like all of us, spends a fair bit of time having fun, socializing, and scratching his butt. None of that detracts from the goodness of his good deeds, but it’s completely moot in respect of this discussion, which is populated by people of equal goodwill, selflessness and devotion who happen to be doing something other than good works just at this very second.

Now, as to whether there are more productive discussions we could be turning our focus on, it’s probably true. So what? We’ll have those discussions some day, too. The fool who told you that your work at Davos was immoral due to the planetary cost of aviation was making the same kind of puritanical dismissal: “Having found one way in which what you’re doing is imperfect, or having found one way in which what you’re doing could be replaced by something better, I damn you and dismiss what you do.” It’s the ne plus ultra of double standards: for Christ’s sake, how much breast-cancer is cured by writing about someone who’s working to cure breast cancer?

Joi, my friend Teresa Nielsen Hayden once told me, “You are not responsible for what you do in the dreams of others.” If someone whom you didn’t know was disappointed that you failed to trade some moments of sleep, work, or life-affirming connections with your too-often-absent friends for interaction with him, that’s his problem and not yours.

The cries of elitism are simply bogus and hardly deserve dignification with a response. Every single person in the world – no matter how many or few links point at her blog – has more potential demands on her time than she can possibly do justice to. I’d love to spend more time speaking with my grandmothers on the phone, and volunteering at my community drop-in center, and corresponding with old friends, and renewing my first aid certification, and giving blood, but I haven’t done any of those things nearly recently enough. Instead, I’ve done other things that are just as important, based on a calculus that I will only account for to myself and my conscience.

Saying, “getting enough sleep tonight is more important to me than having a conversation with you,” is not elitism. Saying “meeting my work obligations and not letting down the people who depend on me is more important to me than having a conversation with you,” is not elitism. Saying, “being a good friend to my friend right now is more important to me than having a conversation with you,” is not elitism.

They’re not dismissals, either. Taking care of your health, obligations and friendships are sacred duties. Coming in second to those things indicates no deficit or defect. Holding anyone to a standard that does not afford him the freedom to prioritize these over yourself is unforgivably immature and selfish.

At this point in time, I kicked my cat in frustration.

No, not really. But I did change my tagline for the weekend in honor of the conversation. Those who don’t understand the reference, email me directly for particulars.

Tie-Dyed popped up with:

My apologies. The comment and the trackback were simply posted as a courtesy since I mentioned the Marc Canter thing in my blog. I meant no offense. Perhaps I was clumsy in my attempt to come to grips with what I perceive as differences in the blogging community and the community at large. I certainly didn’t mean to impugne anyone’s honor, or invalidate anyone’s feelings or choices; nor do I wish to loft someone onto a pedestal over anyone else. I don’t know any of you personally, and if you knew me you would know that I’m not the judgmental sort. Please forgive me if I came off that way. I certainly don’t want to alienate anybody. I’m really not trying to poke the bear or inflame an argument or put anybody on the defensive. I’ll be quiet now and back slowly out of the room, trying not to look any of you directly in the eyes. Sorry to have bothered you.

Then Joi:

Thanks Cory.

And you Tie-Dyed! Stop apologizing! 😉

Finally me, one last time:

Cory, I can’t believe that you and Joi are that obtuse. Is is that you’re trying to undermine the discussion by undercutting the nature of it? Or that you can only see those aspects of your participation?

The question is not how you behave, it is how others behave around you or because of you.

As for the claim there is no elitism in weblogging, seriously, you jest.

Oddly enough, I think I understood tie-dyed quite well.

My interest in all of this is people altering what they write because of community membership. However, I have no doubt that if Dave Winer had not linked to me with a post of his own, much of this discussion would not be taking place. And I’m not sure this is a good thing, because most of the discussion revolves around issues totally incidental to what I wrote and, in effect, buried what I wrote.

This does, though, ably demonstrate a corollary to my discussion about community and writing : that even if you do write honestly–as a writer, not a community member– there is no guarantee that what you write will be heard amidst the communal noise

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