Some recent positive experiences made me think about the source of my distaste for online discussions. The blame is on me: I assimilated online to social media or online comments in the wild.
I can’t imagine a worse discussion platform than Twitter. Any meaningful discussion requires nuance, which Twitter eliminates by design. Making points via headlines while everyone is watching and scoring is precisely the recipe for the disaster Twitter is as a conversation platform.
HEY World was the main culprit behind my mind shift. Many people have recently reached out via email regarding my recent posts. Some people wanted to know more, others wanted to share a different point of view, and others just wanted to show appreciation. The common denominator for these interactions is that they were friendly and enriching.
Email gives you plenty of space to interchange arguments and nuance, which is the mandatory ingredient for a productive conversation. And email is private. When nobody is watching, I think most humans default to behave as they would in real life with a stranger, regulating tone and manners accordingly. What’s the point in showing yourself outraged, ironic, harsh, or as a virtue-signal dispenser when there is no crowd to applaud you or to boo the other part? These days, when someone reaches out via social media with a juicy question, I always ask for an email privately. I never regret doing this.
I’ve recently had positive experiences on Reddit. Reddit discussions are usually nice and on-topic, with most people sharing different points of view respectfully. I think a key factor is that the platform is strongly moderated both implicitly, via up and down votes, and explicitly. Harsh tweet-like comments quickly disappear via downvotes, and good questions and thoughtful answers get promoted via upvotes. Off-topic or hateful comments are often directly moderated away. I still have my doubts about public discussion spaces, but Reddit makes for a pretty decent one.
So good old email and Reddit, go figure! They have been around forever; I just discovered them now. Social media might look like an expanding gas when discussing things, but you can choose to go to breathe somewhere else. Internet is huge! I think David nails it here:
But social media is not the internet. It’s merely one distorted expression of it.
If you ever feel like reaching out, please do: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you are receiving these via email, replying works too.