Engaging With Others
If you create any sort of content, then at some point you must address the practical issue of engaging with your audience. Some folk get by without doing so, subsequently disabling comments on their You Tube channel or blog. My fellow podcaster Brian has happily managed without a Twitter account for years and has only just returned to that online community. However, I feel that two-way communication is broadly a good thing and I’ve advocated this in past and more recent posts. I’m currently trying to leave more comments on the various blogs that I read and retweet and reply more frequently on Twitter. So far this has been a positive experience. And then I went a stage further and entered in to an “exchange of views” on a well-known gaming news and discussion site. Let it suffice to say that it clearly brought in to focus the unpredictable nature of human interaction and the often-baffling behaviour of others online. Due to the obvious lack of visual, verbal and social cues, discerning others words can be difficult. Something that some no doubt deliberately play on.
I shall obliquely refer to the facts of the matter, as I don’t see the point in personalising this post. In a nutshell, I replied to a comment on a post, explaining my view and why I thought that way. It certainly wasn’t a binary opinion and I countenanced other potential outcomes. I tried to be a clear as possible and even handed. All opinions are biased, as that is their nature but I certainly tried to apply a degree of logic to my stance and the way I expressed it. Needless to say, someone else begged to differ and responded in kind. That is how comments work on such websites. So, after some consideration I decided to respond again, further clarifying my position. After all, the person(s) you are engaging with may have not have read your reply fully, could have misunderstood something or English may not be their first language.
Unfortunately, despite a second response, the discussion did not move on. It simply spawned a counter reply that made erroneous assertions and failed to recognise the point I was making. The author was either unable to understand my point or was wilfully ignoring it to perpetuate the discussion. There may well have been a deliberate attempt at sealioning or it could have all been a basic misunderstanding. Either way, it was clear that the most rudimentary rules of debate where not being adhered so I saw no further point in pursuing that discussion.
I’m sure the proceeding anecdote is far from unique and many of us have encountered such a scenario before. I won’t put this experience down to “trolling”, as that is far too much of a cop out and is a term that is used to often these days to overlook the social complexity of online discussions. There may be a myriad of reasons as to why things went the way they did. Some folk love to engage in lengthy forum and comment exchanges. Others like to play devil’s advocate as an intellectual exercise. Then of course you can consider such options as bias, “tribal associations” and the personal disposition of the individual you’re dealing with. We also live in a world that currently puts how we feel on an equal footing with facts and data. A contradiction of a personal view can sometimes be interpreted as a personal attack.
As you can see, engaging with others comes with a lot more to consider these days. Furthermore, you don’t get to pick and choose who you get to interact with in advance. You only really get a handle on the person(s) thoughts and may be personality, once the ball has started rolling, so to speak. Therein lies the rub and is the reason why a lot of people don’t bother to reach out and engage. Engagement can take time, effort and doesn’t necessarily take you down the path you expect. That can be a good thing or a potential chore. In the case in question the impasse I found myself confronted with came from a failure to grasp the point I was making, be it deliberately or not. I was expecting a logical pattern of events and they didn’t happen.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to be drawn in to pointless or self-indulgent or circular debates online. There is no obligation to do so and if someone wants to turn a discussion in to something more, then I’ll just shrug my shoulders and move on. It does however leave me pondering whether this sort of malady is on the increase or not. Are a percentage of all forms of human interactions doomed to failure due to some sort of unpredictable human factor? It also raises that old thorny issue of the echo chamber, although I feel that this is another term that is sued to often and applied incorrectly. Filtering is a necessary process. There is a difference between balance and suffering pointless contradiction. Also, why debate with those who have no interest in reconsidering their position. Again, there are many things to consider.
I am not especially concerned with that curious internet phenomenon of trying to present your “best self” online. I’m 49 and fully aware that I’m far from perfect. Although I don’t set out to deliberately upset someone, I won’t compromise my views or position to spare someone else’s feelings or try and paint a likeable picture of myself. If you want to judge my morals, ethics or lack of, then fine. Your potential disdain doesn’t really make much difference, does it? Overall, when participating in a forum or sharing a comment, I’m merely interested in an exchange of ideas, uncluttered by anything else than the basic facts. However, unless one has the benefit of interacting with others with a similar agenda and process there is always the risk that all engagement will be subject the caprices of human emotions and frankly it doesn’t help.