The Voice of the Bloggernacle

April 28, 2004 | 38 comments
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Think for a moment about who you are — specifically, your relationships with your co-workers, your friends, and your family. Are you kind? Are you patient? When topics are brought up in conversations in Church or elsewhere, and you disagree, do you get angry? Are you condescending or sanctimonious? My guess is that you’re probably like most mormons — respectful of differing viewpoints, kind and patient to family and friends, and gracious to strangers and guests as they pop into your life.

Now think about who you are in the Bloggernacle.

What is your online persona compared to your ‘real-life’ personality? Are you more patient online? Do you talk down to people? Do you extend to strangers and guests the hospitality and warmth that you offer in ‘real life’?

My observation (and it’s just my personal observation, YMMV) is that personalities become more extreme on the Internet, and that the Bloggernacle is not immune to these tendencies. Take, for example, the recent responses to T&S’ guest, Armand Mauss. Would any of us have spoken to him as pointedly and harshly in person as some have acted here? Or, on the other end, would we have been as accepting in person as some others have been? I’m saying that when we blog, we find ourselves being led to extremes of harshness and to extremes of patience (and perhaps apathy) that diverge from our real-world personalities.

What causes us to become different people on the internet? I’m indebted to John Suler of Rider University and his site on “cyberpsychology”. According to him, an online disinhibition effect occurs from the anonymity and dissociative qualities of the Internet, causing a distorted sense of self-boundaries. As Wiki puts it, “Our anonymous and faceless online culture deprives us of the natural checks and cues that make in-person communication much more stable. Deprived of inhibitions, our depraved needs often dangle out for all to see. Our evolutionary legacy of tact and etiquette stumbles at the doorstep to the Information Age.”

I am not one to cast the first stone here. I feel like the Bloggernacle has made me more sensitive, more accepting of others, and more compassionate than I’ve ever been. My work at BCC has definitely been positive thus far, and it makes me really glad to have found so many good, kind and smart mormons out there. But at the same time, I find myself acting more bitterly, more snarky and more rashly than I ever have. Do you feel the same?

Ultimately, this is a call to let the Bloggernacle work on us to make us more humble, more kind and more understanding. This may go against desires to be a self-aggrandizing pseudo-intellectual, but so be it. If we let the artificial structure of the Internet dictate harsh and condescending behavior, we are taking ourselves our step further away from seeing others as we are seen.

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38 Responses to The Voice of the Bloggernacle

  1. Kaimi on April 28, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    Hmm, I certainly hope I’m not more pushy or self-aggrandizing in the Bloggernacle. But it’s a possibility.

    One difference for me between internet interaction and real-life interaction is that I think I’m more outspoken and articulate online. I have always had trouble picking up on people’s social cues in the real world — I’m particularly bad at reading unspoken hints — and that difficulty tends to make me overly cautious and quiet in real-life interactions. Online, I can (I think) read the cues much better, and so I am much more assertive.

  2. lyle on April 28, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    I am certainly far more extreme in word than in deed. I know that at times my words have been, or seen as, offensive…and that I have taken those of others as such also.

    Also, there is a difference between those that I have known in person & those I only know in-E.

  3. chad too on April 28, 2004 at 1:14 pm

    Hello. I’ve been lurking a bit and find this a great opportunity to inch my nose out just a touch.

    I find myself being a bit more bold and challenging in forums and comment sections than I probably would be in a face-to-face conversation. Part of this is the anonymity that the net provides; my intellectual sparring partner isn’t going to be able to punch me in the teeth (at least not literally) if I challenge him/her.

    I think part of this also stems from the text-driven nature of these exchanges. If the conversation really were face-to-face, I would expect the discussion to be more opinion and anecdote. Since one who posts to a board has the time to find supporting literature for their statements, I’m more confortable letting my inner pit bull loose on those who make broad assumptions/conclusions without any support.

    Glad to be here.

  4. Gary Cooper on April 28, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    I find that online I am a terrible speller, whereas when I am speaking in person to someone, all my words come out properly spelled. On the other hand, in person I sometimes mispronounce words, but online my pronunciation is perfect. (Ha, ha.)

    I’m not sure that I’m much different online from in person. I often write inn the same manner that I converse, but being online allows me to be more eloquent (I hope) and articulate, as one can choose words and phrasing more carefully. I certainly hope that I’ve not offended anyone.

  5. Aaron Brown on April 28, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    On the one hand, I agree that anonymity frees us up to speak more freely. On the other hand, as Chad said, I think that having to WRITE one’s responses forces one (hopefully) to think through one’s ideas a bit more carefully. I actually think the written nature of the Bloggernacle precludes a lot of knee-jerk spouting off (at least in my case). (You mean Aaron B is even worse in person? Is that possible?)

    Also, I feel freer here than I do in Gospel Essentials class, in part because I’m the teacher there, but mainly because the self-selecting group of people here is sufficiently educated, smart and intellectually interested, that this place invites a different kind of discussion.

    Aaron B

  6. Aaron Brown on April 28, 2004 at 1:42 pm

    Actually, it goes without saying that my online persona is very different than my real life one. As a General Authority writing under a pseudonym, I am able to give this character whatever characteristics I believe will bait you all into making comments that I can then forward to the Strengthening Church Members Committee.

    Aaron B

    :)

  7. brayden on April 28, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    The bloggernacle is the only online space where I’ve seen participants regularly remind each other to act civilly and to be introspective about one’s personal net-behavior. That, at least, is a good sign that people here really do intend to be nice. And I think the participants here generally are very kind in their interactions.

  8. brayden on April 28, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    Also, I would compare our interactions here more to the academic setting of, say, a departmental brown-bag or colloquium than I would to a Gospel Essentials class. In Sunday School you don’t debate or you don’t if you follow the social norms of the class. Yet, in academic settings you are expected to debate and disagree, without resorting to ad hominem attacks, which is something we mostly avoid.

  9. Clark Goble on April 28, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    I’d agree with Brayden. I think that the average person who has never been to college has a much harder time with debate. I never do that at church, although we may do it outside of church.

  10. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    Aaron, are you really A. Zoltar Skywalker, lurking here in disguise??

  11. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 2:09 pm

    Brayden,

    I see no reason why we should compare our interactions here more to the academic setting of, say, a departmental brown-bag or colloquium,” except for the fact that we approach things from a more intellectually rigorous perspective than in Gospel Essentials. My reading of people here is that while (for the most part) civil, there’s a lot of talking down to people and a lot of passive-agressiveness that just wouldn’t fly in person.

    My post is trying to get more to tone and interpersonal communication than to content. Who knows, we might find lds-blogging more productive if we approached things more like a (shudder) Sunday School environment.

  12. brayden on April 28, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    Steve – The reason I frequent sites like T&S and BCC is because they feel more like an academic environment than a Sunday School class. I agree with you that tone is important, so long as we don’t feel discouraged to foster debate and disagree with one another. Of course, in this crowd I don’t know that you could avoid debate, even if it were discouraged.

    I sound like a broken record now, but I really do think that most people here are generally very friendly with each other. Have you been to some of the religious or non-religious blogs outside the bloggernacle? We’re the epitome of friendly interaction in the blogosphere, believe me.

  13. jeremobi on April 28, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    I find that among co-workers and family I’m much more direct and honest with my ideas and feelings. My wife can attest to my annoying habit of yelling at people on TV–something I would never do if I met them in person. But online and at ESPECIALLY at church I’m certainly more passive and often find myself conflicted and biting my tongue. I wish I felt more confident speaking my mind among other Saints, but I often feel constrained by my desires not to upset others who might shrink from what I have to offer. I’m certain this is some factor of my early childhood development, but it’s certainly reinforced by the culture in every ward, or large public gathering of Saints, I’ve ever attended wherein questions are regularly viewed as unseemly or weakness. As mentioned by others on this thread, this is the opposite of my experience in academia where pondering and asking questions of conventional wisdom is sometimes championed.

    I don’t buy the idea that blogging necessarily provides more thoughtful exchange. Seems to me that it is a good, safe place to vent–knee-jerk reactions and all. It didn’t take much thought to punch this post in two minutes.:)

  14. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Brayden — you’re right, BCC and T&S represent the acme of friendliness out there. I didn’t mean to compare to the blogosphere at large, but to “real life” (it’s a hackneyed comparison, I know, but important for Christians to remember, I think).

    But even in saying how good we’re doing at BCC & T&S, I know that we could be doing better. It doesn’t take much for people to think a little more about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. It wouldn’t kill us to be a little more tactful and kind to people we don’t agree with. This doesn’t mean withdrawing from debate — it means thinking more carefully about tone and context.

    For example, if I don’t like the way a debate is going on T&S, do I withdraw from T&S, go to BCC and post up something where I snark on the T&S conversation? That’s tacky and cheap. The mature thing to is to think about my posts, to post respectfully — at T&S, in this case — and to try and have genuine love for my enemies (whilst praying for their destruction, of course).

    In other words, we need to learn how to disagree not just like adults, but like true Christian adults.

  15. Dave on April 28, 2004 at 3:09 pm

    Sounds a little like Bloggernacle testimony meeting. I find more open and productive discussion of sensitive Mormon issues at the Bloggernacle’s two primary group blogs than any other forum (online or off) that I have discovered. And the exchanges are, in all but a few cases, collegial and considerate.

    Sunday School has plenty of consideration but no open and productive discussion. LDS bulletin boards have plenty of open discussion (marginally productive with a high noise to signal ratio) but much less consideration. So the Bloggernacle seems to combine the best of both, at least for the moment.

    Some people become more extreme when interacting online, but most I think develop the ability to screen out unintended ranting. Maybe that’s T&S in a nutshell: People don’t rant here.

  16. William Morris on April 28, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Wait a minute. So let me get this straight. BCC is not Gawker-for-Mormons?

    I have been seriously misled by the hype.

  17. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    dave: “Sounds a little like Bloggernacle testimony meeting”

    That’s what I was hoping to avoid, I guess, and I know my post came off a little maudlin. I don’t want to change the Bloggernacle into some emasculated love-fest, because then I wouldn’t want to visit it anymore. But at the same time I find the dissonance between our online and offline LDS interactions really fascinating, because it says to me that we are two different people inside.

  18. Nate Oman on April 28, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    “Maybe that’s T&S in a nutshell: People don’t rant here.”

    Dave: At least we don’t rant too often ;->…

  19. Kaimi on April 28, 2004 at 3:51 pm

    Steve,

    “says to me that we are two different people inside”

    Speak for yourself — I think I’m at least half a dozen different people.

    Or, as the poem goes:

    Roses are red,
    violets are blue,
    I’m schizophrenic,
    and so am I.

  20. jeremobi on April 28, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    Steve: “I find the dissonance between our online and offline LDS interactions really fascinating, because it says to me that we are two different people inside.”

    Do we really have an inherent duality or is it more useful to state the obvious: our behavior (and our choices) are highly constrained by institutions?

  21. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 3:59 pm

    “Do we really have an inherent duality”

    Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? I mean, if we act one way in church and another online, doesn’t that imply that one of the personas (or both) is false?

    Maybe I should be more of a jerk in Church, I guess, just to be a more consistent person.

  22. Julie in Austin on April 28, 2004 at 4:00 pm

    Steve–”I find the dissonance between our online and offline LDS interactions really fascinating, because it says to me that we are two different people inside.”

    Nah. When I’m teaching a class, I have a commission to share the gospel and not my own random musings. The Bloggernacle is just the opposite of that.

  23. Karen on April 28, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    “I don’t want to change the Bloggernacle into some emasculated love-fest, because then I wouldn’t want to visit it anymore.”

    Steve, are you implying that only men should post on the Bloggernacle? Because that really offends me. I will now go off to passively agressively sulk and sabotage your other posts. Goodbye. :o)

  24. Ryan Bell on April 28, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    Re Steve’s original question about why our level of snippiness goes up online, could it have something to do with the audience? In other words, if I’m debating something with two or three friends, and one of them contradicts me, I will probably have an easy time retaining my security and self-respect even if proven wrong. However, if I make strong arguments on a page where my words are open for many intelligent people to read and re-read, I may have more at stake when challenged. In other words, with so many people watching, and our words so indelibly recorded, I think we feel more bound by our words, and thus more willing to sink to lower levels to defend them.

    Obviously, if a person has any insecurity at all, that will be magnified ten fold by conducting a heated debate in front of a large group of educated people. I think the stakes are simply higher.

  25. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    Karen, that was the most passive-aggressive smiley I’ve ever seen. :

  26. Aaron Brown on April 28, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Steve,

    Karen has misidentified the problem. The problem is that “emasculated love-fest” is an oxymoron if there ever was one.

    Aaron B

  27. Frank McIntyre on April 28, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    Clearly there is a lot of diversity in how people approach online work. Ryan feels like he is presenting a magnum opus to the world. Steve thinks he’s singing to himself in the shower…

    Personally, I am more careful with things I write because of their indelibility (unless I can so offend Kaimi that he not only bans me but strikes all my past posts from existence).

    As for dual persona and being the same everywhere, I think this has to be broken out a little more. It seems unlikely that one should be the same and say the same things as one writes. Writing takes longer and lacks verbal nuance. I shouldn’t really talk to someone I don’t know the same way I talk to a friend, because I lack the familiarity—and many people don’t know each other online.

    Thus, some things about our communication should be different online. Other things probably shouldn’t. It would be worth thinking about what behaviors fall into which category.

  28. jeremobi on April 28, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    Jeremobi:”Do we really have an inherent duality”

    Steve: “Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? I mean, if we act one way in church and another online, doesn’t that imply that one of the personas (or both) is false?”

    I don’t think it’s that easy. As I see it, neither persona is ‘false’ (as in not genuine). What more usefully explains change in our behavior is not our value sytem (you already point out that (we hope) it remains somewhat constant), but the shifting nature of our institutional constraints. I agree with you; people act different in different situations. It’s just easier for me to comprehend this reality by analyzing the institutional context. People are jerks, especially given the opportunity to be one without sanction. :>)

  29. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 5:00 pm

    Frank: “Steve thinks he’s singing to himself in the shower… Personally, I am more careful with things I write because of their indelibility”

    ?!?!

  30. Kristine on April 28, 2004 at 5:31 pm

    “emasculated love-fest”? I keep trying to tell people there’s no truth to the rumor that Times and Seasons is a lesbian commune!

  31. Kaimi on April 28, 2004 at 5:34 pm

    Shh, Kristine — that rumor is where we get most of our readers!

  32. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 5:41 pm

    OK, you literalists, strike “emasculated” and insert, I dunno, “EFY”. Sheesh! Can’t a guy use sexist descriptors anymore?

    That’s what I get for composings posts in the shower, apparently.

  33. clark goble on April 28, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    Were lesbians ever masculated so as to allow them to be emasculated? Unless they were once men who had a sex change and became lesbians. Reminds me of an old talk show from the early 90′s – “Help, I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.”

  34. Steve Evans on April 28, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    I am so glad that my post has found its way into discussions of lesbianism and castration. This shall cause it to skyrocket to the top of the T&S all-time charts.

  35. chad too on April 28, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    I came home from work recently to find an empty house (wife and child at piano lessons) with a piece of paper folded on my pillow. My wife does that often when she sees something on the net she thinks I’ll find interesting. I open it to see the title of the article, “Castration,” along with two cross-section illustrations and accompanying text.

    Not knowing quite what to think, I started to read the article and discovered that this was describing the procedure on animals, not husbands. I then remembered that we had scheduled our puppy (The World’s Most Obstinate Basset Hound) for neutering while we were on vacation and he’d be boarding at the vet’s anyway.

    Even though the article wasn’t specifically reffering to me, I nonetheless walked on eggshells for the rest of the night.

  36. Frank McIntyre on April 28, 2004 at 6:27 pm

    “Steve thinks he’s singing in the shower” is my loose re-translation of

    “Rather than defending all of my precious words, I can rattle off tripe (and boy, can I!) without caring; I can vehemently argue without fearing any repercussion, etc. In other words, we are not bound by our words at all”

  37. Jim F. on April 30, 2004 at 2:57 am

    Though I don’t think that all of our personas have to match (heck, if they did, I don’t know which one I would choose as the standard), I think Steve has made a good point. Much of what goes on at T&S is civil and even friendly. But when a topic comes up about which we have strong feelings, it isn’t unusual for that civility to fade. It seems that we find it easier to say snarky things to one another about topics on which we have strong but differing opinions than we would if we were in a room together talking about it. The indelibility of what we write and the time for reflection as we compose seems like it ought to make what we say more measured and, therefore, less biting. But when the topic gets tough, our tough personas get going–sometimes.

  38. Grasshopper on May 6, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    I think there are a couple of other things at play here. Some people feel protected by the anonymity, so they feel free to “let loose” in a way they would never do in person. On the other hand, in real life, when I know someone very well, I am able to have a very animated discussion without it becoming antagonistic (though it may appear so to those unfamiliar with me and my interlocutor).

    After having participated for several years in online discussion forums, I recently got together with a group, including many whom I had never met in person before. After some initial awkwardness, we easily fell into a comfortable pattern of discussion similar in tone to our online discussions, including some very animated exchanges.