Quick disclaimer up front: I’m not referring to any single conversation or even any single group of people here. I’m talking about 20 years or so of talking on the Internet about many topics on many platforms. Twitter just accelerates things a bit.
I’m a lucky man. I have friends who question me. As much as I may joke about wishing I had a chorus of yes men around me (or at least some people who’ll jump in when someone is pestering me on Twitter, rather than just grabbing popcorn and letting me do all the work), I’m glad my friends — real-life, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — are quick to call me out when I’m wrong. (Though, sometimes, I’m not.)
And several of them ask me why I bother to argue with people on Twitter and elsewhere.
It’s surely not good for my career, though the flip side would be that the lack of a corporate umbrella over my head gives me some freedom. People who have or want steady journalism jobs don’t spend their time trying to reason with often-unreasonable people.
Part of it is an unhealthy compulsion on my part to stamp out ignorance. When people say things that are simply wrong — “reporters who cover MLS are all paid by the league” or “only uneducated psychos would watch MMA” — it’s hard for me to bite my tongue.
Part of it is an actual desire to engage. I’ve had social media discussions that started out as hostile but moved into something productive. (And, sadly, vice versa.)
At NSCAA, a presenter shared a wonderful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn of him.
That’s what NSCAA itself is all about. Translating that sentiment to Twitter is more difficult.
Well before Twitter, though, the Internet has been full of ideologues and their echo chambers. Ever been to the Flat Earth Society’s message board? It’s a hoot. And arguing with people like this is a bit like slamming your head into a brick wall, breaking that wall, then finding another wall behind it.
Even then, I think there’s some value in the discussion. I’ve found myself better able to articulate the facts and put them in context after a head-banging discussion. That won’t change the minds of the know-it-alls, but maybe it’ll help me refine what I’m writing for the benefit of others.
Do I spend too much time on this? Yes. I’ve actually given up several social media platforms during weekday hours for Lent. I couldn’t do Twitter because that’s actually a source of news, especially during this MLS collective bargaining process.
Do I wish I had the Zen mastery of Twitter that Alexi Lalas demonstrates? Most definitely. I’ve been too snarky at times. It’s one thing to make a soccer player mad when you’re raising reasonable questions; it’s another thing to make a tactless comment that drives off someone whose conversations you enjoy.
We’re all a work in progress. We’re all lifelong learners. I could probably do better with more followers and readers, but I’m glad I don’t get so inundated with input that I have to slam the door shut. I don’t want an echo chamber.
That said, I think it’s time to put some people back on “block” or at least turn away a bit more. Gotta get some actual work done.