The World Wide Web is amazing. It’s arguably the greatest invention of the last 50 years, if not longer.
I was lucky enough to start college right around the time the Web became public and free. I remember “browsing” the web via Gopher on the text-only UNIX terminals in one of UB’s handful of computing labs. I remember using Mosaic and Netscape for the first time and seeing “sites” with images. I remember meeting other college kids from all over the country through IRC. It felt like an entire new world.
Since then the Web has grown into an incredibly large place (over a trillion pages, as of 2008) where people can collaborate, share even the smallest niche interests with others folks on the other side of the world, watch movies, listen to music, learn pretty much anything, keep in touch through video chats, etc.
This All Sounds Amazing, So What’s Wrong?
Over the last few years the barrier to entry has decreased to almost nothing. It’s incredibly easy to publish your thoughts and connect, whether it is through a blog on a server you rent; easy blogging sites like WordPress.com, Blogger, or Tumblr; Facebook; or in super short messages via Twitter. We are connecting and sharing more than ever.
That low barrier of entry has also produced a sense of entitlement, where you or I feel like it’s our right to share our opinion. That sense of entitlement is even greater when there’s a super easy-to-use text entry box on a page you visit often. There is no barrier between your opinion and the publishing action.
It’s the main reason I disabled comments on my site. Yes, you can still get a hold of me to comment and send feedback. I don’t hide my contact information. It just takes a little work to share your thoughts. I’ve found that eliminating the easy way is a “good enough” barrier to poor quality comments. You have to care a lot to make the effort, even though the act of sending an email was the “easy way” just a few years ago. Now it’s too much work for most people.
Paul Ford calls this Why Wasn’t I Consulted? or WWIC:
"Why wasn't I consulted,” which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web. It is the rule from which other rules are derived. Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.
WWIC can be status updates, comments, Like buttons, thumbs up, YouTube videos, and blog posts like these… (how meta.) It’s making your opinion, your knowledge, and your presence seen and felt. In general, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When coupled with anonymity and a low barrier to entry? Not so much.
On your own blog? Go for it. People don’t have to read what you write and for the most part, blogging is more for the person doing the writing than the readers anyway. Especially when you start. (Hello 30 readers!) Your blog is the playground for your opinions and interests.
On social networks and sites that allow commentary and discussion? As long as you are making a positive impact (and I don’t mean only “save the world” type stuff), I’m good with anything you or I share online in this medium.
Buddhists call this Right Speech. Right Speech is refraining from lying, divisiveness, abusiveness, un-endearing and un-beneficial speech. It’s choosing to make a positive impact and furthering a topic or conversation.
Notice criticism isn’t on that list. It’s OK to criticize someone’s work as long as it’s beneficial and not abusive. To do that requires context, facts, and using the right words.
Unfortunately, since there is no or little barrier on most sites, it’s easier to flex your WWIC than make a positive impact. And because of that, a good part of commentary on the web falls into the not useful category. If you don’t believe me, check out comments on any popular political site or YouTube. (Calling comments useless is putting it nicely. Many are racist, misogynistic, and hate filled in general. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Maybe I feel this way because I started blogging (and using the Web) before social networks? Not sure. I know I am not alone though. What I do know is I’m interested in lowering the ratio of web-based WWIC in my life – at least from people I wouldn’t consult in real life.
Since we lead such high information lifestyles, I think it’s important to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make a positive impact or move the conversation forward. When I look at the sites I use the most, Facebook stands out as having the highest ratio of low quality WWIC. Twitter blocks all conversation by default unless you follow at least two people involved (plus there is much less FOMO going on, given the impermanence of tweets), RSS feed readers don’t include post comments, and Instagram is mainly photos.
I spend the most time in RSS, but Facebook has the most FOMO so it’s just as addicting. The plan so far: fine tune my RSS subscriptions (again) and decrease or eliminate Facebook usage. I need to think through the last one a little more, since last time I quit Facebook I ended up coming back for more 6 months later.
Are you tiring of WWIC on the web, social networks, Facebook, etc? If so, how are you dealing with it? Feel free to hit me up and share your thoughts.