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Meta and Rum

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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot

Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3499
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Tue Sep 16, 2008 5:09 am    Post subject: Meta and Rum Reply with quote

Rum and conversation on the net...
(...inspired by a recent thread here)

Most of think we know what conversation is.

A simple exchange of information between two (or more) individuals. But what isn't often recognized - at least on an overt level - is the true extent of a conversation. The basic level is tacit or factual, eg "You know, that car was blue". Simple, right? Maybe, maybe not. Depending on tone or context, the messege may really be "That car was blue dingbat, and you should have remembered that!". Or even "I'm getting tired of our relationship when we can't even agree on the color of a car". Actual conversation is "explicit" (the car is blue) or the unspoken "tacit" (you idiot).

Yup, that all might be there. Enter the meta-conversation.

"Meta" - Greek for "above" - is a conversation about a conversation. At its best it occurs between two individuals who care enough about one another to examine - together - the quality of their conversation, all of its meanings at various levels and with the goal of working together to reconstruct the conversation (and indirectly the relationship) and reaching new and improved understandings.

Terrific. But the net has problems with this.

On the net we tend to communicate through terse emails and open discussion groups. Anybody can send the former; anyone can just jump in and interrupt the latter. They are NOT conversations in the live, real world sense. The net is either completely disorganized, or organized simplistically into "topics". Think about it. When's the last time you met your buddy for a beer and shouted out to the bar: "..the topic is 'Getting Together'. Anybody wanna say something?", lol. A madhouse. Add to this the tendency to quick-scan, cut-n-paste, miscite or malcite, shoot from the hip and you get the idea. And let's not forget delayed feedback, interruptions, too brief or flippant responses, suffocation via volume and...

You get the idea.

Worse yet, most sites/discussion groups are open to thousands of potential participants/interruptors and often exist with little if any effective moderation. Those like Preacher Ed's are over-moderated and inhibiting in the extreme. This is a case where the moderator's agenda (in this case personal and commercial) overrides all others. Critical thinking or reflection is not encouraged. It's more of a free-for-all contest. "Conversations" are thus disjointed and argumentative, unsubstantiated opinions abound, accusations and personal attacks (flaming, subtle or overt) prevail. Alpha posters emerge, and develop followings of "me too" sycophants who then gang up on any and all possible intruders into what they have established as their personal turf. Opinion clashes are common as random participants come from widely different backgrounds and mindsets.

This encourages lurking among those who (a) are not really participants anyway and (b) those who would like to participate but are intimidated indirectly by the tone or directly by the alphas and their monkey followers.

It's a joke. Are there answers?

Yes and no. Good, tight moderation is important. But only in part. There exists a class of poster who seeks out confrontation and participates by such tactics as trivia, diversion, parsing miscitation, mis and malquotation, sheer volume and the like. You know them. They are the "gotcha" posters. Exchanges with these are a complete waste of time, as they thrive on these relatively useless exchanges. Your engagement is their claim to their 15 seconds of fame. These types need to be stopped in their tracks and redirected to more productive communication. I do know that it is VERY important to make the tacit explicit.

IMHE (experience), it is the tacit that pisses people off. Let me give an example. On a particular website someone had wondered why there wasn't a rum tasting wheel and asked some questions about them. I answered his questions and gave my reasons why a rum wheel was difficult (general complexity, lack of data, lack of consensus) and last, noted that although I'd been attempting to create one, that I felt that this wouldn't be happening anytime soon. The poster replied something to the effect that "..unless you are seeking all the glory" he'd like to participate. This statement was not meant explicitly (although it was stated so), but tacitly communicated something like "You're obviously a glory seeker, but if you could come down off your pedestal, I'd be happy to help you out".


Did the "conversation" then become edgier? Of course. And it's off to the races. Some posters would have immediately engaged in a flame war and toss a bomb right back. Explicitly. Most others, and I am no exception, would try to respond to the explicit content, but an edginess would creep in. Almost no one addresses the tacit, and in retrospect I woulda - coulda - shoulda. Something like: "Before I address your post I noticed something written there. When one says '...unless you are seeking all the glory' it may imply the other is simply a selfish glory seeker. Did you mean that?".

Get right to the point - politely but directly. Avoid using "you" and "I" as much as possible. Give the poster some room, some respect. And fer gawds sake read his post - and reflect on yours - before you respond. If you're angry, sit on it for awhile. Avoid escalating and resolve the tacit first. I will definitely have to try this, but only the godz know how tempting a more pithy comeback is. But I am curious about this approach, actually about any approach that addresses what is close to the #1 problem in our new, net form of malcommunication.

Can you hear me now?

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