Thoughts on written communication

The three comments on my previous post, along with some conversations elsewhere, have led me to think a bit on the nature of written communication in the information age.

Consider this comment: “You clearly don’t have any idea of what you are talking about. Unsubscription from the VB5 guy’s blog is in order” and the one that follows: “Surely you can have an opinion without resorting to personal comments.”

Now the interesting thing about the first comment isn’t that the reader disagrees with me – even most Microsoft folks will admit that google is still better on search (Gates implied as much at the D4 – All Things Digital Conference this week). It isn’t even that the reader made personal comments.

It’s that the personal comments were so mild.

It wasn’t too many years ago that virtually every forum or discussion board on the web was not only illiterate, but would frequently degenerate into massive “flame wars” where insults and personal attacks became the order of the day. Frankly, I haven’t noticed too many of those recently. In fact, take a random sampling of any discussion board from slashdot to most blogs and I think you’ll find them remarkably civil – at least compared to earlier days.

Some felt that the reason flame wars took place was the lack of immediate feedback that comes from posting on a discussion board. It’s easier to disregard someone’s feelings if you can’t see their expression while disagreeing with them. This still applies, but now it seems more common for people to respond critically to personal attacks. Perhaps as a result there is a sense that personal attacks reduce your own credibility? (If only that worked with political campaigns).

Another interesting phenomena I’ve seen is especially among younger people – the quality of their writing has improved dramatically. Fifteen years ago when teens showed up on our local BBS discussion boards, most of them could barely string a coherent sentence together (much less spell the words correctly). Today, thanks to Email and IM, teens write all the time, and the results are noticeable. Most may not be great writers, but the overall quality of writing has improved dramatically.

Between increased civility and better writing, participating in NET discussions has, frankly, become much more pleasant than it used to be – at least from my point of view. I’d be interested in hearing if any of you who have been around for a while have noticed this as well?

2 Responses to “Thoughts on written communication”

  1. Demetrio Trombi Says:

    Perhaps one factor leading to more civil communication over the internet is the permanence of the content and its ability to be easily retrieved by the general public.

    I remember my first time on a two way radio that I installed in my car when I was about 18. You could practically say anything (and most people did, makes even the bad forums civil in comparison) and you knew that the communication was fleeting and was accessible by very few people (only those tuned into you current frequency). Your positing on a news group has certain longevity about it and could easily be traceable back to you via your email address (or even your name if you happen to have one that is not so common…). One of my employers told me that whilst they were reviewing my job application they Googled my name. Now what would be their impression if I was part of ‘flame wars’ using abusive language?

    I think more people who are posting content on pubic forums are realising that their comments could be around for years and could potentially be retrieved by a simple search. Participating civilly and, even more important, having something meaningful to contribute could do a lot more for your job application than flame throwing…

  2. Homer Kholodivker Says:

    Me and my friend were actully discussing this the other day! Now I know that I was right. lol!

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