I still find the reaction regarding Mena Trott’s and Ben Metcalf’s little contretemps at Les Blogs to be very interesting. The concensus seems to be that Trott lost it, and Metcalf was cool under fire, especially considering that he was unexpectedly told to stand up during this conference.

In comments to Metcalf’s post, Dave Rogers:

Although I’m no fan of IRC backchannels during a presentation, I saw the video available on the web and I think you conducted yourself quite well under the circumstances. I think it was an interesting event, which gives us much to think about (though not many will, I’m afraid).

Also in comments Ian Forrester writes:

The reason why nothing was accomplished, could be for the exact reasons of what Ben was getting at? Cultural differences… Unless people like Ben stand up and call people on these things, we will never deal with the core issue.

about the actual timeframe
I’m not saying I’m totally supporting Ben in the way it came about but if you step back for one second. Mena was a speaker presenting, she understands not everyone will be in agreement. And to be fair to Ben, he did not plan to interupting her talk. He didnt shout her down and was actually listening to her. He was using the backchannel to voice his views like many others which is exactly what its there for!

Liz Lawley writes on the power difference, speaker to audience member:

Nobody seems to be acknowleding the huge power differentials that come into play there, and it’s simply *not* the same thing as making comments in the backchannel. For her to comment on and respond to Ben’s remarks are one thing (although civility in her response would have gone much further towards furthering her call for civility from others). For her to swear at him from the podium and and call him out is something quite different.

It’s also worth saying that there’s a difference between saying that a speaker’s remarks are bullshit, and saying that a person is an asshole. One is about content, the other is about personalities. I think Mena crossed a line there.

The Blog Herald writes, in sensational script:

Mena Trott has lost the plot again, this time in France during the Les Blogs conference…interrupting her speech to single out a blogger who had dared criticise her speech as part of a back channel discussion on it, and called him an Asshole and also dropped the F word….get this….during a speech in which she was imploring people to be more civil to each other.

The victim of Mena’s breakdown, Ben Metcalfe comes to his own defence on his blog…

The victim of Mena’s breakdown… Oh my God! Whatever you do, don’t let Mena on an airplane!

I wonder what people’s reactions would be if Metcalf were to jump up during Trott’s talk and suddenly burst out with, “This is just bullshit.” By doing this virtually rather than physically, is he somehow absolved of any responsibility in inciting Trott’s reaction?

Don Park takes a more zen view of the whole thing:

Civility is nice but, as a norm everyone must follow, it’s as comfortable as a bowtie to a person who is more used to baremetal communication. So called baremetal communication has a price too in that folks raised in more civil surroundings feel offended easily and noise called emotions intervenes. In the end, I believe tolerance (elasity) supercedes both civility (curve) and frankness (line).

To sum it up, my advice is to:

1. be civil mostly.
2. be direct when civility intereferes more than helps.
3. be tolerant always

I liked what Don wrote, but it reminded me of a slingshot.

My own reaction to the events is to be appalled, furiously so at first, that the conference organizers actually put a huge screen behind the speakers where anyone could post either backchannel IRC communications, photos, or what have you. The only reason I can assume they did so is because they knew that they had to use whatever gimmick they could to attach the audience’s attention, in an age where conferences of this nature occur every 2-3 months.

If this was the strategy, it worked, but then that’s all that’s being discussed from the conference, as Salvor Videoblogging points out:

It is interesting to observe what parts of LesBlogs 2.0 conference gets most attention. The most popular flickr lesblogs photo is of one of the keynote speakers sleeping during one of the sessions (video here) and the most talked about event right now seem to be when one of the keynote speakers confronted one of the people in the audience who had been fooling around on the backchannel. Why are these images of the conference so powerful?

(Marc Canter’s reactions to the photo being displayed behind him during his panel. BTW Marc, my name is spelled Shelley. That’s with an ‘E’ before the Y.)

Salvor’s question is the million dollar question: why are these images of the conference so powerful that nothing else will be remembered about the event other than these? In my opinion, it’s because they’re strong enough, emotionally, to grab an increasingly jaded audience.

This, then, leads to a question of my own: have we become emotional junkies? Do we need these confrontations in order to emotionally engage with a story? Have we run through so much writing and so many conferences and so many past discussions that it’s only the extreme of such that is capable of firing enough synapses in order to ‘hook’ us? Rarely can we find this level of interest about a piece of beautiful writing, or a joyful exchange between friends–the cross-weblog teasing and the learned discussions with respectful give and take between the participants.

If this emotional addiction is so, if in our insatiable need for more and more events that spark enough emotional connection to engage us and make us want to jump into, or perhaps a better word is slingshot into the fray, will acts such as these become the norm, rather than the exception?

I am suddenly overwhelmed with a need for something other: of beauty, of commonality, of humanity, of not this. Time to visit Wood s lot, a site created by Mark Woods who, I am fairly sure, cares nothing about anything I’ve just discussed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email