Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Everybody Loves A Good Fight

It’s true, isn’t it? As long as we aren’t emotionally involved, as long as our friends/family aren’t being hurt, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to conflict. Conflict gets people talking, gets people fired up and, eventually, gets people taking sides.

From time to time we see celebrity scraps used as front page fodder for the tabloids and magazines and I can only guess that the reason they do it is to make the papers fly off the shelves. I certainly was taught how to write scandal stories when I studied journalism. One of the reasons I changed gears.

In the past few years, since I first became aware of blogs, I’ve seen the conflicts spill over to the public face of this community. And yes, I’ve been involved in some conflicts. I understand (only too well) my own tendency to defend friends or things I believe in.

The truth is, I’ve lost respect as a result of some of these arguments. Sometimes, I lose respect for myself, because I’m angry that I lost my temper or that I couldn’t resist the urge to speak up. I almost always end up angry with someone who’s waded in on the conflict with complete stupidity. I get angry with the people who accuse and point fingers and mock, especially without taking the time to get their facts straight first. And I really get pissed off when people do it under the veil of “reporting” or “editorial commentary”, which explains why there are some “industry” sites I won’t read. They’re no better than tabloid hacks.

Now, I recently discussed this new trend to let people leave comments below news stories on newspaper sites. Some newspapers have active forums, and pull the topics to their home page to draw discussion. I’m just starting to become aware of the fact that when I click on a home page link, it doesn’t always take me to a news article or even a column. Sometimes, it takes me to a pure reader opinion piece.

Such as this one, Are we going to have a dictatorship in Canada? Well… wow. More proof that most of the people drawn to these “discussions” are narrow-minded idiots using the veil of anonymity to spew hatred and garbage? Read for yourself to decide, but with only four comments at the time I’m writing this, it’s already gotten nasty.

The internet has this wonderful plus of bringing people together, of letting us interact despite the barriers of geography, nationality, etc. I don’t always find it a sad thing that we get drawn into each other’s lives. (I know some think it’s pathetic that people make better friends online than they do in person in their own hometowns.) I think it gives us a chance to connect with like-minded people who share our interests, and particularly for us writers it’s a way of staying in touch in the long gaps between conventions and crossing paths during book tours.

But the same forum that can bring us together can tear us apart.

The reality is, things get said, feelings get hurt, and a lot of people leave things unresolved. I certainly know for myself that if I feel things have been left badly with a person I’m not going to want to see them. I’m going to want to avoid them at the next convention. Even if I have nothing against them, if I think they have something against me, I stay away.

And then there are the conflicts you witness that you do stay on the sidelines for, but nonetheless you know about them. I’m inclined to avoid them too. Is it all water under the bridge? Or are people still picking sides?

We’re human. We all have the ability within us to take offense and give it, to lose our grasp on our better judgment in the heat of the moment…

For the past few months I’ve found myself typing responses to topics on blogs, forums, lists and then deleting them instead of hitting publish. I’ve found myself thinking, again and again, best to walk away. Don’t get involved, no good will come of it.

It’s a human tendency to start forming conclusions when you hear things. And when you hear things under the table, so to speak, so you’ve promised not to repeat it or divulge the source, it makes it hard or impossible to go to other parties involved and get their perspective so that you can form balanced conclusions. You’re left with this toxin there, a pile of stuff in your brain, and you don’t know if it has to go out with hazardous waste or if you can recycle it or if it’s just pure trash. So, it stays there, festers and you either have to find a way to work around it or find a way to get rid of it.

Which, for me, isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve always had one of those minds that collects bits of information and pieces things together. Sometimes I’ve intuitively deduced things I had no concrete information to support. Sometimes I’ve been dead wrong about where I stand with a person. The trouble with having a mind that works that way is that if it connects to something on an emotional level or is curious about something, it doesn’t tend to let go easily.

The result is, I find myself reading fewer blogs, reading fewer forums, auto-deleting posts on listservs. And yes, I’ve found myself putting authors on my mental list of ‘will never read’ after being harassed by a few of them.

As I said, I’ve made my share of mistakes, and definitely been drawn into the scraps in the past. I’ve had a few people I’ve argued with, and then have patched things up. But I’ve also seen, as a result, that others who took sides carry the conflict longer than myself and the other party do. They didn’t have the closure of resolution.

I do find myself wondering what readers think of all this. Has easier access given us knowledge of the dark side of the community in a way that’s hurting our image? I think, from time to time, about shutting it all off. And if I shut it all off, how am I going to hear about new authors and books I might be interested in? You have to remember that, where I live, I just don’t have a bookstore I can drop by and get solid referrals from.

And if I’m tempted to shut it all off, how many others are pulling the plug in disgust?

(I didn’t want to use an actual example from the writing world, which is why I linked to that forum discussion, but I think it shows just how volatile things can get.)


John McF said...

Just last night a friend of mine said, "It's always recess online."

There have been some famous literary fights that didn't hurt the reputations of those involved and there've been some that have.

The thing about online stuff is that, really, each community is so small. Crimespace seems huge, but it's what 500 - 600 members?

This stuff so rarely breaks out into the "mainstream." Of course, you can never tell when it will.

But I don't know about this image. What is this image that may get damaged? What's the image look like now?

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think everyone has their individual image, and then there's the collective image. And everyone does see it differently, to some degree, but the more private you are the easier it is to control your image. You govern what people see of you, so they have a very select amount of information to assess you on.

Crimespace is over 700 members, but anyone can go and read it. Like DorothyL has what, maybe 100 semi-regular posters? But over 3000 people receive the digests. Crimespace hasn't had any fights really to speak of - nothing on the level of the ITW judging scandal last summer, for example.

I still remember a moment at B'con when I met someone and they said, "I know who you are." And I honestly didn't know if that was a good thing.

I've had really strange emails from people that have made me realize you have no idea who's watching online. And I've seen some of the scraps get reported on.

But yes, it's always recess online. Good way to put it.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"It's always recess online."

True. I hated recess when I was a scrawny little kid, because that's when the bullies took turns beating me up. But I'm not that wimpy little kid anymore, and I refuse to waste my time on these people whose maturity level never got out of the schoolyard.

It's why I quit DorothyL, Rara-avis and Short Mystery Fiction some time ago. I can get just as much industry news elsewhere without having to deal with the online equivalents of what we used to call "junior high push-fights."

Sandra Ruttan said...

Patrick, I was shocked by SMF when I joined. It was simply awful. I felt my blood pressure rise every time I opened a digest.

Anonymous said...

I had to stop reading after a couple of posts.
It is disgusting. I'm glad in my decision to stick to only a few sites. I feel brain cells died off while i read that.
I have to be honest, that kind of thing upsets me.
"Recess" is a good word for it.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

I should clarify what I said the other day. I can handle criticism, no problem. I got my first rejection slip at age 13. It's the downright nastiness displayed by so many people on those lists that made me quit them all.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Chelbel, it upsets me too. I used to think it was possible to 'fix' problems on forums. Make people see reason. Now, I know it isn't. Sadly, I think that's just one example of how horrid they can be.

Patrick, I'm with you re: criticism vs nastiness. I completely agree.