Tag Archive for ‘Internet’

Why Online Discourse Has Lost Its Civility

My wife and I have a rule within our relationship — don’t go to bed angry at one another. This serves two purposes — for one it helps to ensure we actually resolve disagreements while we still remember all of the details of the situation. But it also helps prevent us from creating a snowball effect with all future disagreements.

Something we identified fairly early on in our relationship, based on experiences that both of us had observing other couples in our lives, is that unresolved issues tend to carry over into future disagreements. When you make a habit of letting things go unresolved, it can often result in all future disagreements turning into arguments, not just about the specific situation, but also about all previous situations that have yet to be resolved.

This sort of trend has dire consequences on any relationship, but especially on a marriage because there’s so many opportunities for things to flare up again. What starts with one of you innocently forgetting to empty the dishwasher and the next thing you know you’re arguing about thirty other issues that are completely unrelated to the current disagreement.

This eventually builds to such a degree that it becomes nearly impossible to effectively resolve any issues at all because each of you are so caught up in all of the other disagreements that it becomes difficult to focus in on one and come to a resolution.

So our rule of not going to bed upset with one-another is our way of preventing this from ever taking place. We make every effort to resolve disagreements as quickly as possible and always do so before the end of the night so we never let it grow into something bigger than necessary.

But I think this is exactly what we’re seeing with discourse online. And there’s a key component that causes it — I don’t think we are effective at attributing disagreements correctly when we’re not face-to-face — I’ll circle back to this in a bit.

Take the disagreement between Mac users and PC users, for example. If you’re a Mac user and you see someone comment in support of PCs, all of a sudden you’re coming to conclusions about what they think — even when they aren’t directly related to what they actually wrote. You’re attributing all of the disagreements that you’ve had with all PC users about that topic to that single individual.

While this may seem trivial when the topic of discussion is what computer you prefer, when this same phenomenon is extended to more contentious topics within the realm of politics, you can see where it can quickly get out of control. What starts as a simple disagreement about the risks (or lack thereof) of a large percentage of the US voting by mail, it can quickly escalate into a disagreement in which both sides are arguing past each other. You’re no longer having the same argument with one another because each person is carrying baggage of past experiences that each person is wrongly attributing to the other.

To a certain degree, I think we’ve been online long enough as a society that each of us has finally reached that tipping point. We’ve had enough disagreements with “the other side” and are now finding it increasingly difficult to resolve relatively simple disagreements — each side is so caught up in all of the other arguments they’ve had in the past that neither is able to focus in on the specifics.

But back to the face-to-face versus online interaction differences. With in-person interactions, I don’t find myself or others incorrectly attributing ideas and positions to someone based on adjacent views that they express. It does happen, but I don’t find it to be nearly as common as with interactions on the web.

I think it’s difficult for us to correctly attribute views/positions online because it’s just a sea of usernames and profile pictures that tend to blend into one another. You don’t hear someone’s voice, see their mouth move, or observe their facial expressions as they share their thoughts. And this is exacerbated with so many of our discussions taking place on Twitter and Facebook, where everyone’s words are in the same font, in the same color, with the same background as everyone else.

So what can we do about it?

To a certain extent, I think that going through this contentious time might actually be necessary. The internet is still so unbelievably young. We likely haven’t fully felt the effects that the web will have on us. We as a culture will have to adapt and adjust to this new paradigm. And that takes time.  A lot more than you would expect.

But as a good starting point, publish your thoughts on your own site. Having your own unique combination of fonts, colors, backgrounds, and other design elements will help prevent your words from being lumped into the sea of usernames on Twitter and Facebook.

And when you get into disagreements online, take a step back and read what the person you’re interacting with actually said. Before you reply, consider whether you’re arguing with their words or if you’re arguing with some adjacent viewpoint that you’ve attributed to them. Choose your words carefully and be as respectful as you can.

If you notice them straying and starting to argue with a viewpoint that they’ve attributed to you, gently nudge them back to the topic at hand.

It’s not easy. And it will take time to build those habits. But I think it’s powerful to lead by example. You’d be amazed at how much of an impact you can have on those around you if you ensure that your means of debate sticks to the words that are actually spoken or written by the person you’re interacting with. And in doing so, you’re view has a stronger chance of coming across in the discussion.

Medium Deprecates Custom Domains Service ➝

Medium:

As of November 2017, Medium is no longer offering new custom domains as a feature. Instead, you can create a publication on Medium that will live on a medium.com/publication-name URL.

I don’t know why anyone would invest time and energy into a publishing platform that doesn’t support custom domain names. If you want to start writing for the web, do yourself a favor and just go with WordPress. Whether it be self-hosted or through WordPress.com, there will come a time when you will greatly appreciate the flexibility and portability offered by the platform.

(Via Daring Fireball.)

Questions in Your Timeline

If your Twitter timeline looks anything like mine, you probably see someone posing a question to their followers at least once or twice each day. Maybe you offer an answer or maybe you just scroll past because it’s a topic you’re unfamiliar with. Maybe you’re just too busy to find the answer or maybe you don’t know. Regardless, I think we should all strive to be more helpful to the folks in our timeline and give them a greater opportunity to find the answer they’re looking for.

I made a rule for myself a few years ago that I try my best to stick to:

Always answer if I can and retweet if I can’t.

I only have about four hundred followers on Twitter, but I can’t tell you how many times a retweet to my relatively small number of followers resulted in the surfacing of an answer. And I can’t tell you how appreciative I’ve been when someone retweeted my question to amplify its visibility.

We have the Internet at our fingertips — more information than you could ever imagine. But finding the correct answer to some obscure or specific questions are still far more difficult than you’d expect. That’s why people ask questions on social networks. Many of these tweets are a last resort after countless Google searches and YouTube videos that are unable to provide them with enough information.

Twitter users that have massive followings can probably get an answer to just about any question within a few minutes. But for everyone else, a retweet goes a long way to get an unanswered question to someone that can help.

‘The Bullshit Web’ ➝

Nick Heer:

The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.

But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.

Remember when it was commonplace for people to shame retail stores by publishing photos of their foot-long receipt next to the one or two items they purchased? That’s what has happened to the web and I think its time we start shaming site’s that bloat their webpages with unnecessary scripts and media.

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

If you create anything on the web, do yourself a favor and read Nick’s entire piece. It really gets to the heart of what’s wrong and what can be done to fix it.

Spectrum Internet Is Getting Kicked Out of New York ➝

Ashley Carman, reporting for The Verge:

New York is officially kicking internet and cable provider Spectrum, aka Charter, out of the state after the company failed to deliver on its fast internet promises. The state required Spectrum to roll out high-speed internet across underserved rural areas when it merged with Time Warner Cable in 2016.

I live in upstate New York, in an area serviced by Spectrum. I have no idea what’s going to happen with this. Although my guess is that the state will work out some deal allowing them to continue operation after they pay the $3 million penalty.

I hope this will also encourage other companies to accelerate the rollout of fiber networks, though. Empire Access has been slowly deploying fiber in my area, but they don’t have any future plans to bring it to my neighborhood. I would really like that to change soon.

Itty Bitty ➝

A nifty little service that lets you create webpages that are contained entirely within their own link.

1.1.1.1 ➝

A nifty new DNS service from Cloudflare and APNIC that‘s incredibly fast and treats your privacy with the utmost importance.

Living on Cellular

My wife and I closed on our new house late last week. There’s still a great deal of unpacking to do, but most of the work that needed to be done — plumbing, tree removal, and electrical — are completed. We couldn’t be happier in the new place, its quickly starting to feel like home.

One utility that we wanted to get taken care of as quickly as possible was our home internet connection. Behind running water, heat, and electricity, internet access is our most important service. The vast majority of our communication and media is delivered through the internet. Living without access, for even a few days, would be a dreadful experience.

Luckily, earlier this year, my wife and I switched to a cellular data plan that allowed us to use Personal Hotspot on our iPhones. This served as a functional stopgap while we waited the four days for Spectrum to send a technician to run a line into our home. Relying on Personal Hotspot for four days turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag, though.

I was able to connect an Apple TV and my iPad at the same time, which let us watch television while I browsed the web and checked Twitter on my tablet. The speed was quite good, too. Our cellular connection was able to sustain download speeds around 30Mbps — much faster than the 5-10Mbps I typically see while I’m at work, which is only about three miles away from the house.

But using Personal Hotspot became a chore. After some period of inactivity, iOS automatically shuts the feature off, even if you’re iPhone is plugged into a power outlet. This means I regularly had to toggle the feature back on in Settings, even if I was only away from my devices for a few minutes to grab a drink or run to the bathroom. You forget how convenient always-on internet connections are until you don’t have them.

And then there are all the modern conveniences that require a home internet connection to function. Plex being the perfect example. My wife and I use Plex to watch all of the content we own, whether it be movies and TV shows on DVDs that we’ve ripped or the iTunes purchased content that we’ve stripped the DRM from, Plex is an essential part of our entertainment setup.

We often watch episodes of Boy Meets World or King of the Hill through Plex before we fall asleep. But Plex doesn’t work without an internet connection. Even if the client you’re using and the Plex server are on the same network. I suppose I could have connected our Mac Mini, which runs Plex, and our Apple TV to my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot. But that’s an awful lot of rigamarole just to get our Ben Savage fix. We usually just ended up watching Property Brothers on Hulu.

The last major annoyance was controlling our HomeKit devices. We have an iDevices Switch in our bedroom connected to a box fan. We run the box fan at night for the white noise and the air flow. Surprisingly, HomeKit devices don’t seem to need access to the internet to function, but in order to control them from our iPhones, we have to be on the same network. That means we had the extra steps of toggling Wi-Fi on, before interacting with the HomeKit switch, and toggling Wi-Fi back off afterward so that we had access to the internet. It doesn’t sound like much, but it probably would have been easier to just get up and slap the button on the side of the switch.

After four days of this dreadful, home-internet-less lifestyle, a Spectrum technician finally came to our house and ran a coaxial line into our office. It took him all of fifteen minutes to install and we were up and running. It was probably the most pleasant experience I’ve had dealing with someone from a cable company. The guy knew what he was doing and placed the line exactly where I told him to.

Now I’ll be able to turn our office closet into the heart of our home network. It will house our modem, Time Capsule, HDHomeRun, and Mac Mini — which acts as our home server. And I couldn’t be happier to have internet access on all of our devices again, without having to fuss about on my iPhone beforehand.