Why can't we all just get along?

I teach on an MA in web design at the University of Greenwich.
It is my job to enthuse postgraduate students about working on the web, to convey the good and exciting work that is done in this young and dynamic industry. When I moved to the web in 2006 I moved from an academic career where information was closely guarded to one where people openly shared their work and methods. It was a refreshing and exciting change of scenery and I was humbled by the time many peers and ‘old hands’ gave me when I was starting out.

Today I read some truly sad and brave blog posts that made me sad for what this industry seems to have lost with time. Sarah and Relly have both spoken up about their experiences of the horrific sexism and flagrant disrespect that can pervade our craft. There is a massive side to this debate that I don’t feel qualified to comment on, which is sexism and attitudes to women within our industry. All I can do is call out when I see it and speak up to say that I believe sexism is unacceptable in any form.

However there is another side to this debate which is a lack of respect for others. It seems with the instantaneous, fleeting – and sometimes seemingly anonymous – nature of our channels of communication people have lost some of the fundamental basics of human interaction.

So, to recap here are some basic rules/reminders:

  1. If you speak in a derogatory way about another person in a public channel then you are a dick. It doesn’t matter if you name them or not – if it is in the public domain and it isn’t constructive then it is malicious.
  2. If somebody says something that offends you then take them to task about it, if somebody says something you disagree with then challenge them directly but never make it personal.
  3. Respect your elders – in the web meritocracy it is easy to become successful very fast but always show respect to those that paved the way for you to do what you do.
  4. Twitter is never the right medium for informed, intelligent debate. The subtleties lost in brevity are too great to be constructive.

Regardless of sex, gender or ability, it disgusts me that any one individual (or individuals) feels they have the right to speak publicly – and personally – about another person. The old rules apply: if you wouldn’t say something to somebody’s face don’t say it publicly.

Comments

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You can use Textile

I don’t wish to hijack this post, but I would like to throw problems with race in as another area which requires work. I have had many problems when people discover i am asian (born and bred in England). To the extent where I have lost projects (which i have proven by submitting under western names, and i currently operate under a western name as simply, i need to pay the bills). I have also heard stories of female colleagues encountering issues described in the links in your article.

Despite the modern age we live in, and the nature of our industry, it still feels like how it was growing up in the seventies.

Exactly.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.

As an example, I think Twitter is great for a lot of things, but it’s also fairly awful for its “fire and forget” nature of tweets. It’s far too easy to put our thoughts out there before actually considering the consequences of what we say.

How will this be perceived? Am I making it personal? Will this upset someone? Am I respecting others’ point of view?

Just last week I received a passive/aggressive comment from someone in our industry that I respect, done via a subtle hashtag. While it wasn’t outright insulting, it was enough to make me question the tweeter and I asked him to clarify via email which he never did. Kind of sad that that would happen, especially since we’ve never even met in real life and that was the first interaction I’d ever had with the person. If the first time you speak to me you essentially call me a dick, what do you think that makes you?

We’d all be a lot better off on Twitter (and in the digital domain generally) if we’d all exercise a little empathy and courtesy before blindly shouting our mouths off.

Treat others as you would wish to be treated; it’s really not that hard.

The more people that read this the better. Unfortunately I suspect that the ones who will read and acknowledge this advise are the ones who don’t need to be told it in the first place, and the ones who need to be told these basic rules probably won’t pay any attention. I wish it wasn’t this way but it is, though if people continue to talk about it and share their experiences then it’ll become less of a problem in the future, and hopefully disappear altogether. Either that or we could setup a giant vigilant group.

Cole,
couldn’t agree more. All these horrendous stories are at their core about respect, or rather, sadly, the lack of. Shame so many do need reminders…

love your rules!

When I said “giant vigilante group” I meant a giant group, not a group of giants. I have nothing against giants.

Well said, Cole.

I have often thought that the secret to decent interaction both on and offline is “don’t be a dick”, but your four “rules” sound like the backbone of a nice kind of code of conduct, if you will.

Matt and Craig’s comments are bang on the money for me too.

I agree with the overall sentiment of this post. I disagree that the points you make are concerning the ‘fundamental basics of human interaction’. A lot of these problems are experienced by educated, decent people. It seems to me that most have a problem with rational discussion in general. Ad-hominem is the default and only path available. Unfortunately, you don’t need to be qualified to have your opinion heard on the Internet.

Totally agree. My problem is that I can’t stand to see others bullied, so when I try to speak up for them, I’m just pulled into the mess, which is what happened just very recently. It’s a tough decision to make about whether to get involved or not.

Cole, Agreed on every single point. Your rules are exactly right and every person (regardless of industry) should read them and act by them.

It’s so sad to read how some people (regardless of sex, race or age) get treated and even sadder to hear that it happens in an industry that I love and has been known for it’s caring & helpful attitude.

A person is a person.

Well said.

While Twitter may be worse in this regard due to the “brain fart” type of posts, on many (if not most) sites the comments are so thoughtless & rude they become unreadable. Fortunately, your readership seems an exception.