I don’t write about my Dad much on this blog, and I probably ought to more. He was a major influence in my life in many many ways, and I should credit the places where he shaped the person I’ve become.
I’m writing this tonight because if he was alive, today, May 2, would have been his 80th birthday. He died a little over ten years ago, but I still frequently miss him.
I’m also writing this because I never said anything here about the recent Kathy Sierra controversy; in particular, the backlash that followed and the “code of conduct” that (for once) appeared to have made a large percentage of bloggers agree on something—few of them liked it.
Yes, these two topics have something in common, and by the end of this, I hope you’ll understand why I see them as a single rant.
“I pledge to do my best not to say negative things about other people”—does that sound kind of familiar? If it does, you may have been a blogger back in the dark ages, when someone tried to convince everyone that they should “blog nicely.” That was seven years ago. Didn’t work too well, did it?
I think that one of the most common misconceptions about conversations online is that “you shouldn’t say anything to anyone you wouldn’t say to their face.” There seems to be a belief that no one is rude to another person if they’re face-to-face, and this simply isn’t true.
Example 1: I read on several blogs about the guy with a one-man show where dozens of people one night walked out in a huff. After enough pointers, I followed the link and realized, “Wait, I know this guy!” Turns out that the one man behind the one-man show was Mike Daisey, who’s a friend of a friend (or more than one friend). They took me to his show 21 Dog Years in NYC several years ago and then out to dinner with him afterwards.
I read his blog post about that night where he said:
Last night’s performance of INVINCIBLE SUMMER was disrupted when eighty seven members of a Christian group walked out of the show en masse, and chose to physically attack my work by pouring water on and destroying the original of the show outline.
He also wrote a follow-up about the aftermath, and they’re both well worth reading. But most importantly, follow that first link, and watch the video: even though these people are face to face with him, they’re not one bit polite.
Example 2: I was at a tech conference a few years back, having a casual conversation with someone (I’m not going to name any names here, sorry) when another friend walked by.
“Hey Dori, good to see you!”
“You too—how’re you doing?”
“Great! And you?”
“I have to run, but I’ll see you around.”
A pretty normal on-the-run conversation, wouldn’t you think? I wouldn’t even have remembered it, except that the person I was originally talking with then said, “You shouldn’t have said you were good. You should have said you were well.”
I could have gone into lecture #17a (The Difference Between Spoken and Written English), lecture #17b (The Difference Between Formal and Informal English), or even lecture #2 (The Way English Evolves From The Way We Were Once Taught)—but I didn’t, because I thought it would be rude.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a judge of interpersonal issues, so I tend to repeat conversations that I’ve had with people to others to get feedback on what was really going on. And in this case, it was unanimous: the guy was rude and condescending.
So, two cases, two similar events: people who were offensive, and it wouldn’t have changed any if they were online.
Bringing this back to my Dad (remember my Dad? This is a blog post about my Dad), he was the one who taught me my love of the English language. One quick anecdote:
I was a teenager, and like many teenagers, I was using swear words because, well, I could. It was the late 70s, so I was using phrases like “abso-fucking-lutely.” Dad objected, and when I tried the tried-and-true, “Hey, what’s wrong with it?” his response wasn’t about the language itself; what he objected to was cursing when it wasn’t a drastic situation. He said that if you use extreme language in everyday speech, what words do you use to express yourself when you need strong language?
So, when I see a proposal for a Blogger Code of Conduct that tells me what language I should use, and what should be allowed in our comments here, I only have one thing to say: fuck that shit.