When I see a discussion centered upon potentially contentious issues emerge online, my first impulse is often to jump right in, but then I remember how many hours I have put into engaging in essentially fruitless exchanges in the past. It is easy to be pulled into almost any online conversation where the subject matter resonates, and to lose productive hours to doing so. I have had a handful of interactions over the past few weeks that have made me consider which virtual conversations, discussions and arguments I will engage in and why.
While this protocol was not architected deliberately, I concluded that after thousands of hours of trial and error, I am becoming increasingly choosy regarding which Internet-based conversations about social issues and politics I will spend my time engaging in.
These days, before diving in I take a breath and determine whether or not engagement will allow for me to accomplish one or more of the following:
- Learn something significant from the particular exchange, even my mind won’t be changed.
- More thoroughly explore my own position / relationship to the issue
- Hear a perspective different from those I am used to.
- Speak out frankly against sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.
- Persuade someone—the person the exchange is with or someone who is looking in on the conversation—to see the issue from a different perspective.
Otherwise, if one/some/all of possibilities are not evident, I usually pass on the exchange, because engagement without promise of the aforementioned fruits is often masturbatory. I find that a much of online “dialogue” (particularly in the comments section of newspaper websites) is actually masturbation, which is fine, because masturbation can itself be an educational and entertaining task. However, I would prefer to invest that time into blogging and being an otherwise productive member of society.
What are your parameters for engagement?
IMAGE CREDIT: Brian Fitzgerald