Do Unto Others…

It’s that time of year, when employers/clients are squeezing every last ounce of creativity from us, deadlines seem to get shorter and our days get longer. We’re probably not at our best to be conversing with others. Just yesterday, I snapped at my Dad who called and asked a very simple question about eBay just because I was dealing with some work stresses. I then spent the next 3 hours feeling terrible and texting him to apologise. We’re certainly not at our most patient.

Twitter has been rife with snarkiness and generally an underlying tone of unfriendliness recently, uncommon in our industry but sadly becoming more so. This has come at a time when I’m trying to encourage two very bright, young and wonderful individuals into our industry, both of whom follow closely what has been happening on Twitter, and I can’t help but wonder if Rachel Andrew is right in her most recent blog post – Be Kind to one another. Should I warn them that they need thick skins and sometimes need to be a little aggressive in order to succeed and be heard? As Rachel says, I sincerely hope not, however from my personal experiences over the years, I’ve most certainly had to toughen up.

Going backwards slightly, I remember our industry pre-twitter. When your only access to the community was through those who wrote for blogs, books or magazines. I vividly remember flicking through the pages of .net magazine in early 2003, and Googling those who had written tutorials, then bookmarking their sites and visiting regularly. As I got more experienced I didn’t always agree with some of the things I read, and the discussions that took place in the comments were actually helpful, and normally, an alternative method to that which the author originally posted – everyone would learn something. Of course, there have always been haters, people happy to sit behind a keyboard and remain anonymous and faceless, but I strongly believe social media has bought out a dark side of us, as a community, that needs to be buried, and fast.

The influx of the community onto Twitter was a wonderful thing, suddenly being able to converse, in real-time with someone over the other side of the world who wrote one of your favourite books, or who’s work you find inspiring, was a truly magical time. A group of “webbies” (myself included) were very early adopters of Twitter, naturally, and so as others from the community joined these users appeared to already have a large following, and became exponentially, more popular. It was like a catalyst. A lot of the snark on twitter seems to be directed at “popular” webbies who, through no fault of their own, in a way, found themselves at the spearhead of the community on Twitter.

If you spent time with any of these popular “web celebs” (FYI – I hate that term) – you’ll be surprised to find little to no ego’s at all, just a bunch of creative people who enjoy what they do and haven’t been afraid to tell people about it, but all of whom sadly have war stories about their negative experiences of the community, or a select group of people, on Twitter. Within a group, we all laugh and joke and brush them off, but behind closed doors, I know deep down, we’re not laughing. Even worse, the same names of individuals causing problems and bad feeling appear to crop up again and again.

Have we all become so used to sharing that we feel it’s perfectly acceptable to throw etiquette out of the window and direct nasty comments at one another? I’ve never seen this happen at a web conference, so why be a keyboard warrior and let it happen online? Maybe it’s easy to forget these are real people behind the avatars. I don’t know. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt with the speed at which we can now chime in on anything that we read, rather than taking a considered approach to what we say?

It slightly crosses with a theory I’ve had for a while that we’re going to reach an “over-sharing peak” – we’ll start to see value in pulling back the amount of people we share with, and resort to close-knit friendship groups. It’s a theory I’m trialing myself with the new app Path. Instead of sharing with every person that adds me, I’m keeping it exclusively for people I know, trust, and have a real-life friendship with. These people could tell me what I like, dislike, what upsets me, and know all the little nuances of my personality, so I don’t need to watch whether what I say could be misinterpreted. I’m quite enjoying it and have found real value to me, in keeping it that way. I sincerely hope as a community though, that we don’t feel the need to revoke sharing from a wider audience, simply because resistance against what we put out there, is getting less friendly.

I’d love for us as an industry to be more tolerant, to encourage others and get rid of that underlying tone, that has crept in recently, of one-upmanship. I don’t expect everyone to get on, or even share the same opinion, but before making a snarky comment, ask yourself what real value it’s adding to the community? Personally, snarky comments on twitter remind me of one of a saying…

“Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength”.