This idea of the superiority of real life interactions has been kicking around in my head for the last few months. I’m just one of thousands of people who have grown tired of the lack of civility and rationality in the blogosphere, in my case the skeptic/atheist blogospheres.
In a recent post on her Facebook timeline Sharon Hill posted the following:
REALLY interesting observation I had today: At TAM and now at today’s PA Atheist Con, SO FEW PEOPLE actually follow or even know much about all the crap-slinging personal vendettas and nonsense going on in blogs and forums. Many others choose to ignore it on purpose. I’m almost certain one can basically ignore all of it, keep doing your thing, and it is nothing to be concerned about. I was encouraged.
These conferences have been about meeting people face to face, having good talks and building networks. Something to keep in mind — there are only a few who are really vocal and pushing the block/hate agenda.
I’m all for ignoring the pettiness and high-school like environment. We are adults. Knock it off.
I observed much the same from the people I met at the recent TAM. Most had no idea of the strife that had happened (which I won’t repeat). When I walked into the Del Mar each night, there was no fighting, no hand wringing, just lots of people talking, laughing, and drinking. In my own conversations with people, we were able to touch on the issues that tore the blogosphere apart in civil tones and with thoughtful words. I was encouraged to see how deeply people wanted TAM to be an inclusive gathering, safe place for everyone.
What poisons the discussion of the issues via blog posts is the basic lack of humanity in the communications. The cold mechanical nature of text displayed on a monitor or mobile device strips the interaction of any intended tone, tone that is then invented by the reader, correct or not. I can’t help but look back at how differently I read people’s tweets and articles now that I’ve met them in person. I thought I’d list how different or similar people seemed to me once I met them in person. I think it’s instructive how the simple act of meeting someone in person can change or confirm everything.
I first learned of Blake Smith through the wonderful podcast, MonsterTalk. It is one of my favorite podcasts and when I started listening to it, I felt that Blake’s personality was really coming through. You really begin to feel you know the person when you hear them talk, make self deprecating jokes, and respond to other people. I later had the chance to interview Blake for my own podcast, and had the chance to interact via skype.
I finally met Blake in person at TAM 9 and talked with him more at TAM 10. Blake is even nicer in person, but pretty much the same as what I learned via podcasts and skype. I mean this is in the best possible way. Blake is as nice, honest, and funny in person (if you like puns) as he is on his podcast. I think the key thing is that I “met” Blake first via interactive audio formats.
I don’t remember when I started following Barbara on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog, but I was always impressed with how well she wrote her blog posts. She writes in what I assumed was a very serious, scholarly tone. This could also be because I have a lousy knowledge of grammar and anyone who does appears to be a serious writer. Writing like that feels a little cold to me, though I don’t mean that in a bad way at all.
I’ve learned a lot about being a better skeptic from her blog posts, and her three part series on skepticism is a series I re-read every few months as a skeptical tuneup. She’s done a lot for skepticism and when she talks I listen. That said, I really didn’t know what she was like in person before TAM.
I finally met her in person, not really sure what to expect. I’m an introvert at heart, and I’m terrible at meeting people. When I finally met Barbara, I learned that she was not quite as serious as she came off to me in her writing. She was funny, self-deprecating, and really fun to hang out with. Now that I’ve met her in person, her writing takes on a little different flavor for me. It’s humanized in a way.
Let me be very clear here: My take on her writing was based on my experience and limitations. I had to “invent” a personality based on how I was understanding her writing. The “lack of humanity” is on me not her. Any motives had to be created by me because I didn’t know anything about Barbara as a person, just her writing.
I feel like 99% of the blogosphere battles are because no one really knows what the other person is saying. Anger and motives are invented, integrity is questioned, and words are typed right past each other. Legitimate issues get buried in battles between internet-only personalities that don’t really exist in real life.
I’m glad I got to meet Blake and Barbara in person. In one case, my beliefs were confirmed, in the other, I learned something new. Now when I read something Barbara writes I feel I understand her voice better, and I can learn even more. As the title of this blog post says, interactions in real life beat the blogosphere every time.
P.S. I met Sharon Hill in person at the same time as Barbara, and I have nothing but kind things to say about her as well. It was a really awesome TAM.