Monday, November 06, 2006

Jiggedty jog, bloggedty blog

Every once in a while I try to figure out what in the heck I'm doing on Blogger. I'm not talking about shifting to Wordpress, because at somepoint I know I'm going to end up doing that. I mean to say, why in the world do I have a blog to begin with?

I was reading Smart Bitches today. Go read the article, but not the comments. I want to comment on the comment I made. (Too many layers--gack.)

OK, you back?

Here's my comment:
I’m finding it ever so ironic that most of these discussions about what one should or should not have said come down to an underlying critique of how professional the original commentor (commentator?) was behaving. There’s a lot of verbiage about how we should all act and what lessons can be learned from watching someone else act rashly.

Ummm. But all the comments regarding professional etiquette are showing up on blogs. As a writer of a blog, I’m having some trouble digesting that.

First, at some point every person has acted less professionally than they should. There’s always a more tactful or, conversely, a more open way of presenting an issue. There’s always one more opportunity to resist the pull of gossip. The effectiveness of pulling out these examples is getting diluted. Because, really, how many times do we all need another reminder that perhaps we could be “nicer”? Even La Nora commented that the internet is a tool which requires some finesse; I believe she mentioned some scars she still bears, although she was kind enough not to show us the scars in question.

Second, why are the critiques of professional behavior given any weight whatsoever when they appear on a blog? Unless that blog is dedicated to professional ethics, managerial techniques, or business management tools, then no blogger has the ability to point fingers about another’s professionalism. And I say that as a blogger.

Because really, blogs are a newer form of gossip around the water cooler. In some cases, such as on this site, the discourse is intelligent, varied, and respectful. But really the whole blog “movement” is an exercise in *personal* opinions, reactions, stories, and ideas. Sometimes friends show up in a time of crisis and offer suport and conversation. Sometimes strangers gather on streetcorners to bitch about politics. Sometimes watercoolers attract office gossip.

But not a simgle bit of that is professional behavior. None of it. And I enjoy it greatly.

In my professional life, I modulate my tone very carefully. I appear on TV with a certain look, a certain affect. When I walk into a colleague’s office, I’ll often announce, “I’m here as a Board member” or “I’m here as a parent” just so that the other person can tell what level of dialogue we’re going to engage in. I consider it professional courtesy to do so. But on my blog, it’s personal.

At AAR, I expect something in the middle--it was a pretty open-ended question after all. And I don’t consider AAR to be a professional publishing or industry website. If it were, there wouldn’t even be an “At the Back Fence” column with a linked discussion board for public comment. What professional organization would go out of its way to stir up topics of discussion and invite the public to weigh in on an unmoderated message board? Hello. Unprofessional. Therefore casual, and therefore I’m not understanding the complaint that Ms. Stuart was being unprofessional to begin with.

All in all, I’m left shaking my head over a reaction to an internet posting on a blog, where the blogger decries that the original poster was acting unprofessionally. By the very virtue that you are blogging about it, are you not also acting unprofessionally?

I think we all need to get over ourselves. People do and say odd things occasionally, and they all have differing opinions. Singling them out to answer for their actions on blogs is a touch immature.

And after that huge reaction, I’ll close by saying that I thought Ms. Stuart’s comment was just as appropriate to the interview as the rest of her answers. “Favorite type of man"--I’d never answer that question if a newspaper asked me, but I’d hop right to it if AAR had occasion to.

(Note to self--figure out a way to write a post which is four sentences or less. Really.)

In politics, I genuinely enjoy conversation. Some frustrations aside, I enjoy negotiations too, because it is only in negotiations where I get a sense of what is deeply important to the unions. What I thought was going to be a big issue isn't mentioned, and that's FACSINATING to me. I enjoy hearing from people on the "other" side about what they'd like to see get done. Because then I can understand where their priorities are.

And I hear from time to time from folks on the "other" side that they are genuinely surprised to find me so willing to engage in conversation with them. (Then I hear from idiots on "my" side that I shouldn't be talking to them. Ugh.)

OK, all that works. I love that part.

What I hate, is the personalization of pointing out differences.

I'm seeing this over and over again. People are constantly misinterpreting the intended audience for various comments. There is a specific difference in talking about a topic on a blog, or in an informal interview, than there is in discussing a topic for a professional audience, or in a prepared statement to the press.

Different diction is used, and differences in tone and behavior are completely appropriate. How is it that we refuse to understand that, as a larger community?

I recently got into a bit of a shouting match (bad Suisan) with a parent on the Kindergarten playground. She had addressed the board the prior evening, and I was nothing but repsectful, and therefore silent. When she tried to buttonhole me the next day, I told her, "If you want to do this right now on the playground, this is going to be a very different conversation." And she honestly could not see the difference. It baffles me. At one point she told me that she was upset that I was responding to her. So I said, "When you bring an issue up on the playground, it's a different attitude than when you bring it up at a Board meeting. I'm more candid here. Portions of this are "off the record" so to speak. At the Board meeting, the entire Board has the responsibility to behave in a certain manner."

She totally didn't get it.

Do we all think that bloggers are this freewheeling in everyday conversations about every significant detail in their lives? Do we not understand that blogging and internet conversations are more casual and emotional than professional discourse?

Why is that so hard to grasp? Is it because we've lost the ability to separate the tone from every bit of written word, i.e., if it's written then it must be accurate and more valid than the spoken word?


Bev (BB) said...

Hey, I've been banging my head against the "match the message to the audience" isssue with regards to reviews for the last dozen or so years, so if you figure out how to get it across, let me know. :D

But you're right, it's all about understanding who the intended audience is in the first place. And when I think about it, that's what I was trying to ask yesterday on Dear Author when I wondered why some author group blogs leave me absolutely cold. I am apparently not the intended audience. That only leaves me wondering who is if not a "potential" reader. Weird, yes?

Then again maybe my mistake is picking some author group blogs that don't even include authors I read. Yet again, though, that's about matching the audience, I guess.

Suisan said...

In terms of author group blogs, my only analogy is "interests in horses." My whole life I've been introduced to people as, "Oh, you're interested in horses. So's my friend over here. You two should talk."

About what? Not meaning to be a snob, although pretty sure I'm going to come off that way nonetheless, but how likely is it that I'm going to bump into a person at a party who has an interest in Arabian horses imported from the desert in the late 1800's, but no later? Most people who own horses compete with them--I don't enjoy it. So we're kind of left in a corner, my new horsie friend and I, with only desultory comments such as, "Mine is brown" and "I bought mine when he was twelve."

I've experienced that a few times on various author group blogs. They are clearly talking about books and writing, and very clearly enjoying themselves, but the topics they discuss are as uninteresting to me as a long story about an American Saddlebred competition would be to me with my hypothetical horsie friend.

In fact I've yet to find an online community dedicated to horses that appeals to me in the slightest. (I have an email group, yes.) Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a group of readers, writers, and bloggers who had almost exactly the same take on Romance Novels that I did. Landsleit!

So I think I assumed we were all in the groove together.

OK, maybe not. ;-)

I think lawyers and politicians, people who have to convince others by virtue of what they say or write, have a bit of an edge in this game of setting the topic correctly for each audience. But I'm gobsmacked to realize that so many authors don't seem to understand nuance, humor, snark, or are able to differentiate this from outright savagery.

And the circle the wagons thing which Sybil brought up a few days ago is really old.

Kate R said...

that's the odd and new-and-thus-hardest-to-get-used-to thing about the internet. It's intimate and casual and yet any goddamn person can wander in.

It's shouting from the rooftops in a casual, intimate manner. It's also sort of cool not knowing if anyone's listening or you're yelling into empty space. (I don't usually check my stats for that reason)

No matter what, it can be hard to figure out which hat to wear.