Monday, 2 December 2013

When did it become OK to be rude to each other?

This weekend I went to Library Camp at the brand new and very swish Library of Birmingham. I've been to a fair few of these unconference events in various parts of the country and it's always great to catch up with old friends, meet new contacts and put names (and Twitter handles) to faces. However, when reading over some of the tweets from the day, I began to reflect on something that has been bothering me about the profession for a while now: the fact that there is an undercurrent of passive-aggressiveness and, on occasion, downright nastiness and bullying in some librarians' tweets either to each other, or passive-aggressively aimed at something a particular person has said or done that they don't like or agree with. By no means are these tweets limited to Saturday's Library Camp, or even to the library and information profession generally as I think it's a human problem if I'm honest, but it does seem that it is now becoming acceptable to be very rude to each other via various forms of social media and internet communication and I hate it. How has this happened?

Don't get me wrong, I love Twitter and Facebook for communicating with others and (for those who 'follow' me or are 'friends' with me will know) I love a good debate. However, I like to think I stop short of making any debate into a personal attack on someone and would never dream of making personal comments towards people in a passive-aggressive or direct manner via Twitter or otherwise. I'm not perfect though, and I'm sure there are times when I've had a bit of a Facebook or Twitter rant. Perhaps this blog post is indeed a passive-aggressive rant too but, for the most part, I try to put across all of my social media exchanges in exactly the same way that I would behave in person. It just worries me that people seem to be getting ruder and ruder and the 'social' in social media is not really about being sociable at all. I'm not going to name any names or quote any tweets I've seen over the past few weeks/months, but I wonder if anyone reading this post will have seen similar tweets or perhaps even have had things passive-aggressively aimed at them? I know I have had it happen to me plenty of times, but in the words of Destiny's Child: "you know I'm not going to diss you on the internet, cause my mamma taught me better than that."

I didn't particularly enjoy Library Camp for a number of reasons. Many are to do with me and not the people who were there, plus I wasn't feeling 100% and wussed out of pitching a session, but I'm not going to go into all that in this post. I just wanted to blog about some things that do generally concern me about the profession and how people communicate with each other generally. It disheartened me to see a number of tweets from people bemoaning what someone was saying or whether someone was talking too much in a session. I wasn't in these particular sessions but I would be curious to know whether these people spoke up in the sessions and perhaps tried to create a debate or change the direction of the discussion if they were unhappy with it. Did they use the law of two feet to leave the session they were dissatisfied with? Or did they just take to Twitter to air their concerns? 

I remember being overwhelmed at my first ever 'proper' conference which was the CILIP New Professionals Day back in 2012. Since then, I've been to loads of conferences and Library Camps and met loads of fantastic librarians. I've done all the things everyone said you should be doing: networking on Twitter, having a blog, reflecting on my own professional development, starting the postgraduate qualification etc. etc. but lately I feel like there's something missing. At conferences and at Library Camps we all sit there staring into our smartphones/tablets/laptops tweeting into the ether, but for what? One reason is so that the people who aren't attending the events can read about the discussions that are taking place and I do think this is a good thing, but I also get the feeling that there is a slightly nastier undercurrent to some of these tweets that aren't necessarily for the benefit of those unable to attend the conference. What is it about Twitter and Facebook that makes us want to take to it straight away when we're outraged or disagree with something, rather than speaking directly to the person we disagree with? One of the more deplorable tweets I ever saw at a conference (again not naming names or events) was somebody making personal comments about a speaker's outfit. What has that got to do with anything and why did they feel entitled to comment? 

I find it too difficult to sit in a session at something like Library Camp and tweet, because I know I'm not giving the session my full attention if I do that. Why do we think it is a good thing to sit in a room looking at our phones rather than at the people who are speaking? Are we listening to the discussion properly? I think not. How can we really be there, in the moment when we can't even be bothered to look at the people in the room? We worry about being in an 'echo chamber' in the library and information world but in my opinion it's worse than that. We're no longer united and looking outward, using social media to advocate and generate more awareness of the challenges facing us. Instead, we are focusing inward and spending too much time bickering amongst ourselves and searching for gratification via how many people we can get to agree with our opinion on Twitter or Facebook. Perhaps this isn't a problem with just our profession, I do think it's people generally. We can hide behind the safety of phones, computers and tablets and say what we want, things which we would never say to somebody's face. It's everywhere, this hate: on Facebook, Twitter, people's blogs, comment sections on newspaper websites. Everywhere. I'm often outraged at just how hateful and rude people can be and it makes me sad. Presumably we all went to primary school and got taught to be nice to each other, presumably we don't speak to our family and friends this way, so why is it ok to be like this online? 

So much is missing when we can only communicate via the written word. We have no sense of tone or body language so people can easily hide behind their words and protest that they were 'only joking' or 'didn't mean it that way' if they are confronted about something they've said online. The thing that baffles me the most is that we have so much more control over what we're saying online than we do in real-time conversations. If anything, we have time to reflect and not just blurt things out, which is why it shocks me that there is so much anger and hate out there on the web. 

I'm definitely not saying anything new here, I'm fairly sure that psychologists and sociologists have been studying human interaction online for years, but I just wanted to reflect and blog about some of the genuine concerns I have. The way I've seen some librarians conduct themselves online appalls me. If that's the way they speak to other professionals online, how on Earth do they speak to their colleagues or library users? I certainly wouldn't want to go into their library.

I'd love to see a Library Camp where tweeting in a session was seen as rude. Where participants were encouraged to engage with those in the room rather than people elsewhere. Call me old fashioned, but if I ever pitch a session at another Library Camp in future I would like to see if it is possible for people to go for 45 minutes without looking at their smart phone. We need to remember that we are all people first, above all else, and we are letting technology ruin our relationships with each other. There are so many good things about the LIS profession and Twitter, such as #uklibchat which is a collaborative effort by some excellent librarians and the chats often create healthy and interesting debates. Similarly, I have met so many great people via Twitter and I really appreciate that they are out there for advice and tips and just general chit chat. However, I do sometimes feel that a lot of the good things about Twitter and Facebook are overshadowed by the negative things and lately, it's really been getting me down. I write this post to serve as a warning, just as much to myself as anyone else, than I do not let technology get in the way of me actually behaving like a decent human being. I wish others would heed this advice too.