Posts tagged ‘civility’


The intelligence gap tells you when to block on social media

06.05.2019

That didn’t take long. I’ve been on NewTumbl 15 days and already a troll’s been by (the above is in reverse chronological order). I guess this is the internet in the late 2010s: people don’t believe in exchanging views, and that trolling is the new normal. You see it all the time on Twitter and Facebook, though it surprised me to see it happen so quickly on NewTumbl.
   Usually, it takes a lot longer for the unthinking to join a platform. Online, where opinions count and your bank balance doesn’t, we are looking at an intelligence gap. This was predicted long ago; by whom I don’t recall, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it came up in the late Norman Macrae’s writings many years ago.
   It took a while for spammers to ruin email for me. I was on email for years before I received my first spam. Twitter and Facebook were pretty nice places to be 12 years ago. Even there, it took a while to descend.
   You can blame certain politicians if you like, but the fact is we would have got there on our own, because most of us have seen the quality of debate declining on social media. Mansplaining, whitesplaining, trolling, abuse, the list goes on. The intelligence gap means that there are those incapable of having a reasoned argument without resorting to one of the above methods.
   The disappointment I feel about one NewTumbl user is simply the speed at which it’s happened, since their comment was pretty tame. Tumblr, for all its faults, actually never got political in the 12 years I was there. If you didn’t like a political view, it was usually too much trouble to comment, so you did what you might do in real life if you overheard a political comment you disagreed with: you moved on.
   Many NewTumbl users are ex-Tumblr, so it’s disappointing that one person decided not to carry forth the old platform’s culture, and infected the new place.
   So what do you do at a platform which is your unwinding social medium? You block.
   Normally I wouldn’t block. My Dad’s uncanny ability to call US presidential elections was down to, at least for 2016, his reading of the comments on their political blogs. The more views he read, the better an idea he had of which way the wind was blowing. On Twitter I block only a very few people; certainly a differing political opinion is not a reason to do it. In fact, I used to live by the mantra of ‘They who lose an argument block first’ but lately I’m revising my opinion.
   Some people are just lost causes. An analysis of the intelligence gap tells you that they’re too far along the path to hell that no amount of reasoning can help them. If others can’t resort to a civil disagreement from the outset, then they might be lost causes, too. Their opinion is actually not worth hearing.
   But the most important thing is your time. It is precious. Is engaging with a troll or a racist or a nutjob really something you wish to do?
   I realize some might think that blocking is “letting them win” or that they “get off on it”. I suppose even trolls have their fans. We congregate to those on the intelligence ladder who are closest to us. This has the inherent risk of us not hearing viewpoints we mightn’t like.
   But does it? If you don’t block based on opposing political views, and you don’t block because someone is either richer or poorer than you are, then what are you really missing? (And I doubt anyone blocks based on gender or sexuality.) Surely that still gives you a sense of where the world is, and allow you to get opposing viewpoints so you can refine your own thinking.
   And you can always block differently for each platform. Do it more in online places where you want to relax. Do it less in places where you want to engage and debate.
   Today, I did my first NewTumbl block. Our wee troll should be delighted.

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Posted in culture, internet, politics, technology | 2 Comments »


Be vigilant and don’t look

13.02.2011

This most recent trip to Auckland was marked by plenty of drama. The first experience was getting a virus the second I hooked up to the internet. The second was, having accidentally bumped the light into beam in my rent-a-Falcon on Ponsonby Road, a very interesting gentleman in a Toyota Picnic in the next lane flipped the bird, shouted, ‘You f***ing idiot, you’ve got your f***ing beam on,’ and proceeded to swerve his car into mine, then cut me off in my lane, before running a red light. The dude was angry. Running red lights seems to be commonplace there, having witnessed an average of one incident per diem, and once again, I seemed to receive confirmation that the page on intersection block is missing from the Auckland edition of the Road Code. (This last one has haunted me for years: every time I leave the gap in the intersection, my Auckland passengers consistently say, ‘I can tell you’re not from here.’)
   I know the strange motoring habits of Auckland I report are isolated examples as I have not really seen too much of this extreme behaviour on my previous trips. There are some oddities such as the inefficient motorway, where no lane is the quickest one, or the fact that travelling at 10 km/h above the speed limit is de rigueur, but then, you find quirks here in Wellington with our one-way system and less than clever signposting (which has, in our defence, improved).
   The reason I make these remarks is a concern where it will all lead. An Auckland friend, who was a witness to the Toyota Picnic’s driver’s extreme sense of drama (I wonder: what more does he do when something bad actually happens?), once said to me that he was surprised that in Wellington, a person spotting a friend on the opposite side of the road would shout out to him.
   Apparently, this does not happen in Auckland.
   So if the everyday gesture of friendship in society is now deemed inappropriate in our largest city, what is next? Could it be this?

London Underground, no eye contact

   These signs were not around last time I visited London, and I had to head to Duck Duck Go to search whether it was just a joke. A few people have reported them, so either they are connected by prima facie unrelated individuals who are coordinating a clever marketing campaign, or they are genuine.
   If genuine, then this is a sign that civilization has left Great Britain faster than the gold reserves under Gordon Brown’s watch.
   I’ve made eye contact with strangers before on the Tube in a friendly fashion, given up my seat for ladies and insisted they take it (they usually react as though it is a prank), and joked with friends and noticed Londoners chuckle at our conversation.
   (Female New Yorkers, incidentally, are still flattered that a gentleman gives up his seat on the Subway, and the elderly are always grateful. In Paris, meanwhile, giving up your seat to the elderly is expected, as well as to members of the armed forces.)
   The latest Underground sign makes me wonder if London has descended into the world of Harry Brown, where making eye contact with someone will lead to a fight. I suspect such signs have been put up after incidents of eye contact leading to violence. And that means the most basic aspect of human civilization—the ability to refrain—is now lost on an increasing number of citizens in the occident.
   It seems to run counter to the expectation that people stay vigilant, on the look-out for suspected terrorists, after years of the Troubles and, more recently, July 7, 2005. If you don’t look, how do you know?
   ‘I’m sorry, guv, I never got a look at his face. I can tell you he was wearing Doc Martens. Shoes with Martin Clunes’s image transferred on to them.’
   I think it’s a cautionary warning that if we don’t teach our own lot to get some perspective on life—a high beam on a car is not the end of the world, Mr Picnic—we’re looking at cities that are going to reflect the lack of civility that this sign suggests.
   What an appalling advertisement for modern Britain, undoing anything that the Tourist Authority might wish to do. It’s as bad as Britain’s apartheid policy.

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Posted in culture, France, New Zealand, UK | 6 Comments »


Civility is a good thing

23.12.2010

Baidu Talk, which launched in September, has netted 1 million users already, according to PC World. Michael Kan reports that thanks to the service’s insistence that no aliases are used (registered users’ identities are verified with the People’s Republic’s government) ‘this has led to more “civil” discussions between users on Baidu Talk.’
   It shows it can be possible. In the past I’ve lamented the decline of each medium as it’s spoiled by spam or splogs. YouTube has been ruined by extremist commenters. In most cases, these people hide behind the veil of anonymity.
   The city blog I proposed during my campaign would have required registration as well. The logistics were another matter but Baidu shows it can be done—and a more civilized discussion is just what we need to make some real progress in society. If dialogue and engagement solve problems, then the medium for both must be where someone wants to go—and not see a whole bunch of swearing going on.
   As I wrote some years back, what I miss about the internet, and this may be rose-coloured glasses, was the collegial feeling that was there in the early days. In the 1990s, we naïvely put our details into online email directories before we figured out that spammers could harvest them. But, importantly, we got quite a few things done. Some of my closest allies in business can be traced back to those early days, before we had to cut through more clutter to find good, trustworthy people.
   Providing a safe forum where the veil of anonymity is gone—where John Gabriel’s Greater Internet F***wad Theory does not apply—is perhaps one of the best things that can be done for so many services. A Small World is one where there’s some degree of safety and security; LinkedIn, by its nature, continues to feel collegial. Since we aren’t talking about sensitive information here, where aliases and anonymity might be key, an online John Hancock can be a good thing.
   The bigger picture is that if China is encouraging this sort of dialogue, I will have to say: watch out. And I did say four years ago that, with Google’s willingness to engage in self-censorship when it entered the Middle Kingdom in 2006, the Chinese people would only be more loyal to Baidu et al in the long term. That influence might yet grow beyond China’s borders.

Speaking of the decline of society, a few weeks ago, Dad and I had to go to the ANZ in Kilbirnie to re-sign some authorities we had on each other’s accounts. (We had to do this with American Express as well: what was it with these big institutions losing the original authorities that we did years ago, all in the same week?) Outside the sliding doors, I heard a very loud female voice. My initial thought was, ‘This is a very loud promotion someone is having on Bay Road.’
   When the doors slid open again, I heard a whole bunch of profanities. ‘You f***ing bitch, you whore …’—you get the idea. I got up, passed an elderly lady on her way in (this was Tuesday, 3.30 p.m., when a lot of elderly are walking along Bay Road), and said, ‘You don’t need to hear that sort of language, do you, dear?’ She said, ‘No.’
   A crowd, mostly of schoolchildren had gathered round to watch these two young women at it outside the local Pricebusters. Or, should I say, there was one abuser and one standing there and taking it. Seeing as neither was armed (I may be stupid, but not that stupid), I stood between them and asked them to stop: that the OAPs walking along minding their own business don’t have to listen to their sort of language.
   ‘I don’t care. You don’t know this f***ing whore …’
   ‘I don’t know you, either. I’m asking you to stop.’
   Although this had gone on for some time, it was only then that someone from the Pricebusters store came out. I asked, ‘Would you like to do anything? It’s your shop, but there hasn’t been an assault.’
   Seeing as the abuse continued, I said, calmly: ‘Walk away. Turn around, walk in opposite directions, and walk away.’
   I have a feeling that ‘Walk away’ in these ladies’ mother tongue meant ‘Let’s start beating the crap out of each other and this dude in the middle can get caught in the crossfire.’
   Fists flew, hair was pulled, and I got a little scrape where my watch was and my glasses were knocked off. It was then that various adults—I assume the female staff of the Pricebusters store—restrained the two. I advised the store that they could call the police now. Dad had come out by then and I suggested we finish the transaction inside the bank. And he didn’t need to see his son lose a fight to two women.
   These Streets of San Kilbirnie are tough and even Karl Malden would be surprised.
   Maybe I was the only adult around over several minutes, but I’m surprised that no one else helped out. It reminds me of two other incidents in the last few years where I played “first responder” (with a much larger friend assisting!) to a homeless man getting bullied and to a teen who had fallen off her bike.
   This isn’t about being intolerant of bad language. Most of this junk is on telly now after a certain hour. It’s the idea, which we’ve chatted about at the Vista Group luncheons with Jim and Natalie, that once we tolerate one thing, a worse thing will emerge. Usually this comes up when we discuss public drunkenness, and how, over the last generation, less and less acceptable behaviour becomes the norm.
   The fear that getting involved would drag one into a court case as a witness—that is baseless, too. When the police came (and quite quickly, too), I had finished at the bank. I asked one constable if he needed me to be a witness, and he said that he already had a statement from someone else. So: I tried to do a good deed, and I didn’t get dragged into a prolonged assault case. It’s easier than we think.
   And maybe I did something for the little guy, to draw the line at something that shouldn’t be acceptable in what is usually a very pleasant neighbourhood.

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Posted in business, China, culture, internet, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »