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Arguing On Line

I go pretty far back with online communications: I’m old enough to have posted to a bulletin board via a 300 baud phone hookup—the kind where you laid your telephone handset in a holder! I eventually moved on to a real modem when I got on AOL and CompuServe.

I’ve noticed something about all these interactive communities: when people get on line, especially hiding behind an alias, they seem to lose some of their courtesy.

That’s why I like this column by Seth Godin on “How to lose an argument online.” I’m thinking it should be required reading for anyone participating in an online discussion. One of Godin’s major themes is that you have to respect people to get anything done well, and that’s true on line, too. One simple example: why would you suppose that people would want to see things your way if the note you fire back attributes bad motives to them?

As a regular columnist and contributor here, I’ve noticed that often those who are the most uninhibited in their responses don’t tell us who they are. If I put my name on my ideas, why can’t you? Using our names makes us remember that here we are people in relationships—albeit relationships constrained to typed words.

It might make us listen more carefully to one another, and perhaps we’d even be able to see things from another person’s point of view now and then.

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