Strong Opinions & Eroding Discourse

I have been observing a trend both in blogs and general internet discourse, but instead of pointing fingers, I decided to sit back, observe and assume that I'm the man who was yelling at the cloud. However, an article, and comments on the orange site convinced me that I'm not the only one with this observation, hence I decided to note it here.

We're arguably going through the second big shift in computing history with a renewed interest in programming due to exponential rise of computing in our daily lives in visible and invisible ways. Sustaining this growth requires a much bigger brain power, and not falling behind in this global technology race. In turn, this fuels discourse and information sharing, and in turn, an evolved version of the flame wars of the 80s and 90s is taking place.

The reason for this is simple, in my opinion. We’re building more sophisticated and ambitious things, which results in bigger and more sensational outcomes. People involved in and excited by these technologies hype it knowingly or unknowingly, and when someone opposes their views, they get upset and answer back forcefully. These sparks ignite the already flammable atmosphere, and flames ensue.

While flame wars look like a natural outcome, its existence is detrimental to neutral and healthy discourse on the bigger scale. Eliminating this phenomenon is impossible in my opinion but, minimizing its occurrence is highly beneficial.

The key to reducing flame wars is a simple but hard to master technique: “listen (read) intently and talk (write) clearly and calmly”. Applying this requires a level head and is not always possible, I know. Also, some people are very good at intentionally triggering the emotions of the other party. However, going above and beyond this simple shouting matches is beneficial for both arguing and spectating parties, because it maximizes the chances for learning something, and leaving the discussion in a better place.

Next time, please try to reread the words of the person who’s answering you slowly and intently if you find yourself angrier than you should be, and answer ten minutes later if you can help it.

You’ll be amazed how this one weird trick can change your conversations for the better.

Until next time,

Be kind.