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An interesting and poignant quote

by r.joseph (Hermit)
on Mar 31, 2001 at 02:22 UTC ( #68528=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Good day to all my fellow monks. I am in the process of reading Moths in the Machine: The Power and Perils of Programming by Daniel Kohanski. It is a very astute and incisive look into a world with which most here are initimately familiar: computer programming. However, he offers a philosophical perspective on our art, and brings up some very interesting points. As I was reading, I came upon a passage which stuck me as very familiar as I spend a large amount of time on the Internet conversing with those who I may never know:

"People who would be unfailingly polite to strangers on the street do not hesitate to hurl insults at them on the Internet...It is ironic that the same Internet that allows us to interact with a wide variety of people that we might never otherwise meet also allows (and in some sense even encourages) behavior that alientates all who are not exactly of like mind."

The reason I bring this up here is simple: I know that many of you, like myself, have probably been affected by the situation Mr. Kohanski brings up above - one of alientation as those who don't even know you bring you down ('flame' you) for expressing an opinion or asking a question. Now, I am absolutely not suggesting that this type of behavior is occuring here - as a matter of fact, I bring it up here because quite the opposite occurs in the Monestary. People in the Monestary almost never encounter the sort of behavior that Mr. Kohanski brings up - what I want to know is why? Why can people here be so cordial and polite to each other, and express great comradiere towards each, when others on the Internet act with utter disdain and hate towards each other? What do my fellow monks think about this situation (the alientation of people because of the Internet), and what do you think is the cause for it? Whatever your opinons on the quote above are, I would love to hear them.

I bring this up simply because I see it as a large problem in today's electronic-social world, and I know that the people here must have some very interesting theories on the subject.

Thanks for your time!

r. j o s e p h
"Violence is a last resort of the incompetent" - Salvor Hardin, Foundation by Issac Asimov

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Any interesting and poignant quote
by Petruchio (Vicar) on Mar 31, 2001 at 03:28 UTC
    People in the Monestary almost never encounter the sort of behavior that Mr. Kohanski brings up - what I want to know is why ?

    I think that there are numerous reasons we could point to in explaining this... but the most important one is, because we want things that way, and work to keep them that way.

    Of course, the main topic of conversation here is rather abstruse, and not to likely to appeal to your average Slashdotter. And we're not a totally open community... we've got some controls on the system, to limit crass and abusive behavior.

    But we've also got a culture which values courtesy; not only moreso than does the Internet at large, but moreso than you'll find in most of the streets of America, or on television or in the newspapers. It's different, and many people here like it a lot; so much so that they often show a taste for gratuitous displays of ettiquette.

    And actually, all displays of ettiquette are gratuitous. They go beyond what's needed to express the information at hand; peppering your message with "please" and "thank you" and "in my opinion" and "but I understand your view" does not make it any clearer. It simply conveys respect.

    In my opinion, that's also largely why this place is a useful technical resource. I have no reason to spend my time answering other people's questions; sure, I like to have mine answered, but that's different. Neither does anyone else have a good reason help out... so just as good a question is, why does anyone bother? Why are we, thus far, doing pretty well at the prisoner's dilemma?

    I think because we enjoy answering questions; which is because we mostly like each other; which is because we accept the conversational overhead involved in treating other people well.

    Why are we different? Because I treat people with courtesy. Because tilly does, and because ybiC does, as do too many others to mention. Because people care enough to ask questions like yours. Because we help and enourage newcomers to learn our ways.

    In short, we care and we work at it; for which I thank everybody here.

      As a sidenote (if you're into this), evolutionary biologists try explain it in a similar way, but they invoke 'reciprocity'. The arguement is that animals (and humans) only do favours for each other if there is a chance it will be repaid. For that, you need to meet the person/creature you did a favour for, and be able to recognise them. But the critical point is that you are likely to see them and deal with them a second time.

      In ordinary discussion groups, you can change your email address and .sig and you are a different person. So there's little reason for favours, since they aren't likely to be returned.

      But around here people are attached to their names, and would rather behave than give them up.

      Please don't confuse me for someone who actually believes this gak, I've just been pumped full of it for many years. Personally I like participating in flame wars because there's no chance of me getting hurt.

      I didn't believe in evil until I dated it.

      I recently (2 days ago) swapped home page from /. to the monastry - at least now when I'm not working, I am working (ie, learning :)

      I value a site that doesn't get obsessed by ALL YOUR Natalie Portman Grit ARE US

      Or perhaps I'm just getting older... :)

      cLive ;-)

(dws)Re: Any interesting and poignant quote
by dws (Chancellor) on Mar 31, 2001 at 05:20 UTC
    The Monastery has a couple of things going for it that contibute the general positive air here:

    A consistent theme, which makes it relatively easy to distinguish the on-topic from the off-topic. Communities that lack a consistent theme quickly fracture.

    An emphasis on self-improvement and knowledge sharing, which puts a negative incentive on flaming. (Flame, and you risk not getting help, or at least not the type of help you want :-)

    A friendly feedback mechanism, in the form of XP, which gives people gentle guidance on the kinds of behaviors that the community rewards. Without feedback on behavior, a site can degenerate into "anything goes."

    Self policing, which makes it easy for senior members of the community to "fix broken windows" before too many of the wrong sorts wander in and think this is a free-fire zone.

    Online communites that I've been a part of that have lacked most of the above have since fractured or redefined themselves. Compare the list above against, say, slashdot.

Anonymity & Asbestos Underwear
by yojimbo (Monk) on Mar 31, 2001 at 02:40 UTC
    I think the monastery is different because you're not truly anonymous, in that you have a handle, bio page, etc, and (most importantly) other monks can vote you down. So trolling/flames would be a waste of time. And have you ever noticed how flame-fests need an audience? Whoever conducted a flamewar by private email? I don't think the "audience" here would appreciate shouting in the cloisters...

    As for that quotation, I have always found it amazing how low people will stoop. As a one-time school sysadmin, I had many successes introducing the Internet but made a couple of really bad mistakes: (a) setting up IRC, and (b) allowing free use of email (but what else could I do??)

    When these media started to be used for sexual harassment, racial abuse and good ole fashioned flame-wars, I was astonished that the people involved were often the most polite in real life. I guess they were a bit repressed and fubar inside, and the 'net gave them a way to express that. Hope it did them some good :-}

Re: Any interesting and poignant quote
by indigo (Scribe) on Mar 31, 2001 at 03:29 UTC
    I have heard this sentiment before, many times. While true, it doesn't express the whole truth.

    Sure, people who would ordinarily be polite often turn abusive online. But people who would ordinarily be shy open up. People who are tongue tied wax eloquent. People who can be browbeaten become steadfast. And if your were getting by on good looks and charm before, well, online might be a problem for you.

    Why do these transformations occur? Who knows, but it is nothing new. Have you ever read a letter to the editor? Or noticed the difference between your phone conversations and your real ones? How about when you are talk to a friend on an elevator, and a stranger steps in?

    Humans use different modes of communication in different situations, and the Internet new and different and evolving.

    Different != Worse
Re: An interesting and poignant quote
by deprecated (Priest) on Mar 31, 2001 at 09:27 UTC
    Buenos Dias Mes Monkos!

    I think one thing that everyone has neglected to add to this is that we're all hackers. We are people involved heavily in forwarding our culture.

    I read this link a while ago, and I owe premchai21 for finding it for me. Hackerism is a gift culture. This means that we gain status through giving our stuff away. We cant quite give away our material goods online (though I've been trying), but we can provide knowledge encouragement and support.

    We're all here because part of our ethos is to give. We're here because we're all hackers. Thats the glue that binds us together. On slashdot you have netizens. Here we have hackers. We want to give back. I am here because so many people have helped me out in the past. All I want is to be able to contribute something back to people.

    I won't lie and say I'm not here for status. Thats the cool part about being a hacker. You gain status by giving. And, heck, I think that's what makes us so cool. If I do say so myself.

    /me makes a big silly grin at his fellow monks

    I'm glad to be a part of this little outfit.

    brother dep.

    Laziness, Impatience, Hubris, and Generosity.

Re: Any interesting and poignant quote
by Anonymous Monk on Mar 31, 2001 at 03:01 UTC
    I think much of this "comes from the top". This site has a rather active collection of de-facto leaders that mostly foster the atmosphere of respect and even politeness.

    Some other on-line forums I've used had real attitude problems that resulted from either a lack of leadership or de-facto leaders that fostered rudeness either unintentionally or in a misguided hope of stopping the "newbie problem".

Re: An interesting and poignant quote
by joee (Beadle) on Mar 31, 2001 at 11:58 UTC
    I believe that it has a lot to do with "the faceless voice". It is easier to insult someone that is not right there in front of you.

    I worked in telephone customer service in a bank for a year and a half and many of my phone calls started with a raging lunatic, usually with profane language skills that would make a sailor's head turn. The problem they would present could be easily solved but most my time was spent dealing with the bad flow of emotions (from them and from me!)

    In the rare occasions I had to work face to face customer service the same people would come up, almost meekly, to ask for help. This frustrated me to no end until our advanced telephone c.s. training classes. There we found out that the less feedback available, ie facial expressions, body language, voice tones, the easier it is for the person to dehumanize the other.

    My feeling is that the internet in general takes even more feedback away, making "flames" easier. However here at I have noticed that we do have some feedback mechanisims available: Voting, the Chatterbox and the Nodereaper. While this is not the biofeedback we are used to, it is still feedback. This is why I prefer this community over the others I have seen.

    puts down the chalk and walks away from the board

Re: An interesting and poignant quote
by nysus (Parson) on Apr 01, 2001 at 09:48 UTC
    I've only been here a week and I'm finding the Monastery to be an incredible resource. I probably have abused it by asking so many questions (and some pretty ignorant ones, too) over in the Seekers of Wisdom. To my astonishment, all my questions have resulted in some great, helpful answers with no flaming. I will return the favor when I get proficient at Perl.

    As someone posted earlier, this positive feedback cycle probably all started with the originators of this board. Thanks to them and everyone else who makes this board possible. It's a fantastic resource. I'm really amazed by it and it's something I would definitely be willing to pay for.

Re: An interesting and poignant quote
by the_oncler (Initiate) on Mar 31, 2001 at 09:52 UTC
    I understand what you mean. I've been victim of insults for no other reason than I was there. This seems to happen more on the non-professional areas (I found with online bridge people walking away from the table..and I was at the beginners table!) Areas such as this area and the forums over in Sun (2 places I've been, just starting to learn Perl) people seem to be well behaved. I'm guessing it stems to question "how would I like to be treated?". People in code forums or in tutorials have something invested in their on-line time. Whether it's a particular question or a general question (like "what do I do now?"), there's a point to us coming here. Well, that's my first comment posted here, and I hope it makes some sense.
Re: An interesting and poignant quote
by Anonymous Monk on Apr 01, 2001 at 04:09 UTC

    This apparent impoliteness has a bit more to do with the technical nature of the discussion. If I were discussing fine films or fine wines with someone I might let them get away with generalizations such as "the French certainly do make great ones". But as a programmer I could not let someone get away with the inaccurate statement "all operating systems use / as a directory separator".

    If I were the quibbling type discussing films and wine I might be inclined to point out some of the lesser French films or wines so that my friend might not try to lead me into the falsehood that "all French films and wines are fine". But that would be irksome to my friend the Franco-eonophilic film buff.

    To let the programmer in this example get away with their untruth without a remark would be somewhat impolite of me. It is not that I want to embarass or berate them personally that I feel compelled to point out the falsity of their assertion. I feel compelled to point out counterexamples, presumably because we are discussing code. Code differs from wine and films in that a computer may be asked to interpret it at some time. Hopefully at that time it will be correct. Hopefully the human that wrote it has learned something about the intracacies of computers by the time they "release" it. A strictly technical discussion is nothing personal really.

      Most of the flamewars you see computing geeks engage in (eg emacs vs vi, Perl vs Python, do you hang braces and cuddle else's) are not fundamentally meaningful.

      One of the reasons is that in programming there is a lot of domain-specific information which you need to know. Many times there are different but roughly equivalent ways of doing things. Which one you choose doesn't really matter. Not having to deal with both at once, does. A lot. In other words expertise is fragile. Guru-hood is easily lost from apparently small changes in your working environment.

      So before your next flame war, stop and think about what you are arguing about. The odds are pretty good that it is one of these important irrelevancies. This is almost certainly true for most of the "religious wars" that you see.

      Hiding that behind an attitude that you are, "Just pointing out the facts, Ma-am!" is disingenuous at best. You are being destructive. Before doing that give it careful thought. Why do you feel so strongly? Do you believe that the other person will find an immediate improvement in their life from taking your advice? Are you being a rigid asshole who refuses to change because you are scared to suddenly be incompetent in a new world?

      Yes, there are things that matter. But most of the ones that matter to you personally are not based on anything more meaningful than the fact that they preserve your domain based expertise. (Which I assure you will largely be lost by changes in programming over the next 5 years.)

Re: An interesting and poignant quote
by illitrit (Friar) on May 04, 2001 at 09:51 UTC
    My take from the short time I've been here is that the majority of people that would come here for more than a few visits tend to be more mature.

    Though this site has tons of information available the casual (read immature) querent is forced to work for it which is just the opposite of what they are looking for.

    So I think in the long range the high signal and the shall we say frequency that the signal appears at both contribute as a repellent to most Trolls and Troglodytes.

    My 2 cents bank it if you want,

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