I almost never read something at Eric’s and think, “Oh, no, no, no, no, man–what were you thinking?” Even in this case, it’s just a short passage, but I think it’s significant to what he’s saying in this (otherwise excellent) post:
Much as I abhor thinking the thoughts of other people (one of my favorite gripes), I like to think of the blogosphere as being above groupthink, identity politics, and the herd mentality. Ideas here should stand or fall on their own.
Those who are easily manipulated or misled, in my view, don’t belong in the blogosphere,….
Eric is too kind. “Those who are easily manipulated or misled” shouldn’t be running about loose in a free society; taking specific pains to exclude them from the blogosphere is redundant.
But a big, open group of people is a big, open group of people. I sometimes have a nagging feeling I’m not a very good blogger because I don’t have the sense of belonging to a special -osphere. As I see it, people act like themselves. The medium makes parts of their personality come out that you might not usually see if dealing with them face-to-face, or in real-time phone conversations, or by letter. And given the clicking-through-links way of getting around, it’s easier to avoid the boors than it would be if we were all physically in one big room. However, I don’t think it’s all that realistic to expect less total boorishness than you get in real life. (I’m not pretending the nature of on-line correspondence doesn’t bring out some of my own character flaws, BTW; I’ve been known to fire off an uncharitable comment or e-mail in a fit of temper and have to apologize abjectly later.)
Dean has been dealing with this sort of issue also, with interesting results. I can’t read his mind, but I suspect he was thinking about what impression it makes when you open a comment thread and scroll through 50 people named things like Stevie Nicks’s Demon Luvr. It probably does suggest that people are not having the most serious, adult-level discussion and that you can loosen your own standards accordingly.
Actually, I just called the results of Dean’s new rules “interesting,” and I don’t know why–the discussion in fact quickly reached near-transcendent levels of tedium. The interesting part was from the tiny minority of commenters who addressed the underlying issue: Is there a way to make people behave when they’re not naturally inclined to do so? Can you do it by forcing them to use their own names or, failing that, names that sound as if they were attached to real people with their integrity at stake?
I doubt it. Granted, credulousness and honor aren’t exactly the same issue, so maybe yoking Eric’s and Dean’s posts together will only make sense to me. My point just is that whatever revolutionary character the blogging phenomenon may have, it’s not in how it channels human nature. Once you’ve gotten used to the variations on them that the medium itself requires, the rules that apply are the standard injunctions to avoid shooting your mouth off and not take strangers at face value.