Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, January 3, 2011

more comments needed?

Bob Stein writes:

People are very resistant to leaving comments in a public space. There was a much more extensive discussion of this draft on the private Read 2.0 listserve than what you see in the public CommentPress version. i begged people on the listserve to post their comments on the public version, but with few exceptions no one was willing. The really sad thing from my pov is that by refusing to join the discussion in CommentPress, people deprived themselves of the opportunity to experience category 4 social reading first hand. I am very respectful of many of the people on the read 2.0 list and would have loved to have had their first-hand reactions to the experience of engaging in the close-reading of an online document with people whose views they value.

But of course, as we all know from experience, only some “people are very resistant to leaving comments in a public space.” Many others feel no resistance at all, and comment freely without any thought intervening between the impulse and the typing. The problem is that the people who ought to be resistant flow freely, and the ones who ought not be resistant stay away. And might there not be some causal connection between the two? When, two or three years ago, the comment threads at The American Scene began to be taken over by trolls, I got emails from several smart people who had formerly been regular commenters there who told me that they weren’t going to be commenting any more because they felt that it was like taking a swim in a cesspool.

That said, I don't think the presence (real or anticipated) of trolls is the problem with quiet pages on CommentPress sites. Rather, something like the opposite. When I see a draft of a substantial article or book on CommentPress, I feel that I owe that work a thorough reading and a careful response — and I don't always have time for that. A quick and casual response doesn't seem appropriate, so I tell myself I’ll come back later when I have time to read more carefully and formulate my response more precisely — but often I don't find time to do that. A quick response would probably be better than no response at all, but somehow it doesn't feel like it would be.

Maybe I should make a New Year’s resolution to comment more often on CommentPress sites. . . .

3 comments:

  • Thanks for calling attention to this problem: a good and valuable comment needs time and energy to be invested. I suffer because of this as well: there are so many good posts and writings that would deserve commentary, and yet I reserve responding to them for a later time and then just forget about them.

    A possible strategy that I have forged for myself is that as it is frightening to respond to a long paper, so I've decided on picking only a small point in it and then respond to that only.

    Furthermore, sometimes I don't even have time for a shorter comment. In these cases I am happy to find a "like" button to tell the author that I appreciate the writing but at the moment I just can't take a pen to explore this "like" in more detail.

    Thanks again for hitting the nail on the head.

  • "A quick response would probably be better than no response at all, but somehow it doesn't feel like it would be."

    The post and comments format seems to imply a conversational or performative aspect; and in both conversation and performance we are well schooled in a variety of ways to express our pleasure, displeasure, agreement or disagreement, or to simply acknowledge the efforts of the presenter or partner.

    But the disembodied, (pseudo)instantaneous and purely textual aspect of the post and comment format strips away so very much of how we communicate. Any performer or conversationalist can easily distinguish between rapt silence, polite silence, and the agonizing silence of boredom, but how are any of these communicated by a comment withheld?

    It's rather like the "closed mic" silence one experiences in a cell-phone conversation. Is my friend listening? Is the call dropped? Did I say the wrong thing and she's hung up on me in disgust?

    Yes, not transmitting all those bits it would take to "send the silence" saves bandwidth, but the savings comes at a cost.

  • Any performer or conversationalist can easily distinguish between rapt silence, polite silence, and the agonizing silence of boredom, but how are any of these communicated by a comment withheld?

    Very, very true.

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