I’ve been monitoring the recent insanity with SFWA and the multiple parties involved in the artillery shelling that is masquerading as a professional dialogue, though I can’t say I’ve been doing it with too much enthusiasm. I’ve hinted at this in a previous post about the political/moral arguments that seem to be hanging like a dark cloud over the SF/F genre, and I don’t really think I’ll rehash those details here. I’m not going to pick a side or give what I think about the issue or its tangents – at least not at the present time. But there is something that has been bothering me quite a bit as I find myself being Facebook ambushed by links to blogs and websites, etc.
People have completely forgotten how to talk to each other.
I could go out on a limb here to blame it on the internet, but I think that’s overly simplistic. Still, one cannot deny the phenomenal impact that internet communication has had on the way we interact with each other. You’re allowed sufficient time to come up with witty responses; you’re allowed sufficient anonymity if you choose it; you’re (perceiveably) allowed immunity from the responsibility to adhere to social norms, in some cases. You also can’t engineer your tone. You can’t accurately guage your inferences. You can’t baseline your interlocutor to find out how he or she might perceive what you are saying. Worse, you don’t care. You don’t care because you’re not there to see the fallout.
We need to reinstitute a standard of behavior in the way we communicate over the internet and start treating it like we would any other communication. If you wouldn’t spew the kind of hateful, sarcastic vitriol in person that you are spewing across the internet, then you should probably reconsidering what you are saying. No, you should probably reconsider HOW you are saying it. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with expressing it. I think there’s something wrong with expressing it like a child who was never taught the meaning of respecting other people.
Worse, the internet and the types of communications I’ve been seeing involve another dimension that up until now was only present in select circumstances – all your communication is public. Yes, this means that you should watch what you say, since it becomes etched in stone immediately upon you saying it, but there’s more to it than that. In one-on-one communication, or even communication in small groups, the dimension of pride and ego is much less than in a public forum. You may have an ego to protect, you may have honor to defend, but the way you’re going to handle yourself in a coffee shop – even if you’re sipping lattes with people with whom you disagree – is much different from the way you are going to conduct yourself if you were on a soap box in the middle of a crowded forum. Essentially, that’s what the internet has become. Everyone now has access to a soap box, and almost nobody has any idea how to use it properly.
Communication on the internet is not just public. In fact, it’s not really communication – it’s entertainment, and it’s become a zero-sum game. There is no compromise, because compromise is giving up status and ego and pride and concession that maybe you weren’t 100% right after all. Maybe every situation isn’t black and white. There is no discussion, since there really is no listening going on – there are only people stating their opinions loudly.
This is not communication. It’s not healthy from a personal perspective, and it’s certainly not healthy from a professional perspective. SFWA and the SF/F genre have been grievously wounded in a way that is both saddening and embarrassing, but it’s not just restricted to that community. Without a willingness to listen, without a willingness to compromise, without a willingness to accept responsibility for the things that are coming out of your keyboard, there will be no progress in any community. There will only be lines in the sand, and through the gap it creates will blow a stagnant, callous wind that smells an awful lot like decay.