Thursday, November 29, 2012

Too Polite?

Writers used to speculate about the consequences of the end of civility. Now they speculate about the consequences of the end of rudeness on the internet

I first came across an odd complaint about the waning of rudeness on the internet in an article by Jason Silverman at Slate.  He blamed social media for ruining literary criticism.  Social media are not too rude, mind youThey are too polite. (Social media roughly seemed to be Twitter, blogs, and Facebook.)

Then the nonsequitur:  If other people are too nice online, you can't be a literary critic at a newspaper. 

Hmm.  I didn't see that.

I didn't understand the relationship of polite social media to literary criticism, but soon The New York Times, the Man Booker Prize chairman, and The Guardian were repeating the argument.  

And now Nathan Heller, a columnist at Slate, has written a piece for New York magazine in which he pines for the days when everybody was rude online.  

"For those of us who learned to love the web best as a hostile, predatory, somewhat haunted place, this kindness is startling.... These days, life online has become friendly, well mannered, oversweet. Everyone is on his or her very best behavior—and if they’re not, they tend to be quickly iced out of the conversation." 

These attacks on politeness online, all by male writers, express their perception that the pressure to be nice has bankrupted a few book review sections--surely not!--or at least wrecked their fun.  They are annoyed by blandness.

I don't have Facebook or Twitter, so if there is too much blandness, I am missing out on it.  And I am no doubt the blunt kind of person who would get "iced out of the nice conversation." 

As a blogger, I am marginally part of the social media.  Some bloggers are much more active socially.  I enjoy reading blogs, but I don't usually read the comments, so I can't say whether they are too nice or not.  The people who comment here are thoughtful and polite, but they say they find it difficult to access the publish comment button:  one must  type in a complicated code consisting of slanting, illegible letters and numbers to hit the Blogger "comment" button. Inevitably spammers can master the code.

If there is less rudeness online, that has to be good.   Here's what I can tell you: the polite online communities last the longest. In the '90s, one of the online book groups I belonged to fell apart over Palestine--Edward Said's excellent autobiography, Out of Place, sparked a battle between one of our Jewish members and a radical pro-Palestine activisit.  We begged them to stop talking about politics and move on, but alas!  And another group split over responses to a book called Patty Jane's House of Curls.  Yeah, I disliked that book.  I never did have any tact. 

Still, many of the Yahoo discussion groups, predecessors of social media, have longevitiy, due to excellent moderators.  Ineresting, sometimes controversial, discussions take place, though occasionally a moderator comes on to say, "Be nice."
So perhaps these journalists will find what they're looking for if they get off the social media and join older traditional online discussion groups?  

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