Living In Public Doesn't Have To Be Destructive

Jason Calcanis has a very interesting post up at about life in public and the costs associated with it. He starts out with the story of Josh Harris which is told in the Sundance winning documentary We Live In Public. And then he goes on to discuss the very real tragedies that have occurred to people who have taken online life, social networking, and lifestreaming too far. He discusses some laws of human behavior he's observed:

Godwin’s Law:
At some point, a participant, or more typically his or her thinking, will be compared to the Nazis.

Harris' Law:
At some point, all humanity in an online community is lost, and the
goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on
another person.

This disease affects people when their communication moves to digital,
and the emotional cues of face-to-face interaction–including tone,
facial expression and the so called “blush response”–are lost.

And then Jason goes on to explain one of the reasons he moved from blogging to an email list:

One of the reasons I stopped blogging was because the dozen negative
comments under every blog post I wrote started wearing me down. I’d
write for an hour and the immediate reward was four people, under 12
different accounts, slamming me.

And then Jason drops this bomb:

We’re all canaries in the coal mines now, like Josh Harris was back in
the ’90s. We’re harvesting our lives and putting them online. We’re
addicted to gaining followers and friends (or email subscribers, as the
case may be), and reading comments we get in return. As we look for
validation and our daily 15 minutes of fame, we do so at the cost of
our humanity.

I'll plead guilty to the addicted to comments part. The conversation that develops after I post is the greatest reward I get from writing it. But "harvesting our lives" at the "cost of our humanity" is not my experience.

Jason is right that too many people hid behind anonymity when they participate online and that leads to rude and agressive behavior. Most of the nasty comments we get on this blog are from people posting anonymously. With the advent of comment profile systems like disqus and now Facebook connect, I think we are slowly building real accountability into the commenting process. And that's a very good thing.

But I reject the idea that you give up your humanity when you choose to put your life online. I've been doing it for over five years and I've not experienced that very much. But I think you need to have some rules. Here are some I've developed.

1) Keep your family out of it until they want to be in it
2) Be nice.
3) Demand that others are nice back.
4) Encourage the community to police the comments. Early on Jackson was my "bouncer" and now Kid Mercury has assumed that role.
5) Take the nasty comments lightly and use humor to defuse them.
6) Do not delete comments unless they are hateful to others, porn, or spam.
7) Ignore the trolls even though it kills you
8) Be careful with photos. They greatest lesson I got was when I posted a photo of me on vacation looking smug. Bad move that I learned a lot from.
9) Give more than you take.
10) Enjoy yourself. Talking, discussing, and debating is fun. Keep it that way.

Jason ends his post talking about empathy and the need for more of it on the Internet. I'll second that request. But I think what we need more of on the Internet is mutual respect and authenticity. And unlike Jason, I don't see things getting worse. I think they are getting much better these days as more and more of our society moves online and brings with them the manners they have in their offline life.

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