Social media conversations suck

Social media conversations suck -- Mervi Eskelinen

I've been sitting on this post for a while. It is a difficult subject for me. I'm afraid of sounding whiny, but also that this may be taken the wrong way. Perhaps someone I wasn't even thinking about here will take this personally. Maybe I will end up losing followers on some social media site. Maybe people will quit reading my blog. Or someone will decide against working with me, making some weird false assumptions about how I conduct myself.

The thing is, I have a strange confession to make: I don't really like having conversations online. Especially at comment sections, forums, and such services as Twitter and Facebook. Email is a bit of a different animal. The more serious subject, the less likely I want to converse about it with you. I know, this is truly an odd confession, by a person like me. By someone, who is used to chatting online. By someone, who doesn't see any real difference between online and offline.

That's why you don't see me engaging with stuff on Twitter or Facebook that often. Or commenting your blog. I don't participate on forums. After trying a couple of times, I haven't found any reason to use Slack. I even closed the commenting on my own blog, partially because of that (the other reason was all the spam).

There's a simple reason for my growing need to detach from online conversations. They too often turn out to frustrate and annoy me. I get frustrated when I don't feel like I've been heard and understood. That's when I start argue, and eventually tell you to shut up. The conversation, to me, is fruitless and repetitive.

A real dialogue, at least in psychology, sociology and pedagogy, is defined as a constructive discussion between two or more people. It's purpose is to explore a subject, find a solution, and induce learning.

The other kind of conversation is a parallel monologue. That, in my experience, is what most conversations online are. Parallel monologues, which go nowhere. They explore nothing. They solve nothing. Nobody learns anything. Except maybe you'll just learn that I'm a difficult person and it's best not to start a "conversation" with me.

Often online conversations feel to me like a conversation between drunk people. Lots of noise, everyone trying to top each other, arguing about irrelevant details, cling on misplaced words.

When was the last time you had an actual real dialogue on Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, forums, or other similar online surroundings? Was it a dialogue, or was it just two or more parallel monologues, people talking to themselves and over each other?

It may not be completely and solely the fault of the tech. Most of the people I've ever met or heard of, me included, are terrible in dialogue. It's easier to give advice than to let people find their own solutions.

Everyone seems to be jumping into conclusions. That's why I had to add that little paragraph to start this post. Hoping that you will get past the title, and actually read this whole thing. Not assuming I mean something I didn't. Not assuming that I just don't want to talk with anyone, ever.

Plus there are all those pesky cognitive biases that tend to get in the way, fooling you to hold tighter on your beliefs. Human thinking, you see, has flaws. It takes shortcuts to make things easier. Things that aren't so start to appear to be true. The more something is repeated, the more you start to believe in it. Also, when someone you admire says something, you are likely to take it as the truth. And most of all, whatever you have learned will be hard for you to unlearn.

However, the impact of the tech cannot be passed. I'm guessing that's partially because it's all new. We are like the people when the phones were a new thing. Confused. Scared. Easy to manipulate.

"Actually," you say, continuing a conversation that started and ended yesterday. The delay between responses makes the discussion patchy. You may have to go back to see what you did say that last time.

On the other hand, being able to revisit the previous parts of a conversation is a problem do. Did you use wrong wording the last time? A-ha! I can prove it. Look, this is what you wrote. So, now we are stuck in arguing about the wording, rather than trying to really advance the subject at hand.

For the wordy and thinking types, the fast and short nature of online updates is an obstacle. You know how nobody will really read your long rant, but most will only be ready to object after a few words.

Everyone is always ready to object and correct. Anything you say. If you write you feel like a common cold coming up, someone will love to tell you that they never get common cold (because something), and how you should do this and that to keep the cold away. You write you ate some garlic to fight the cold you caught, and someone will tell you are a fool. They know "the REAL cures for common cold".

Not to mention all the people who are just promoting, promoting, promoting. A little while back someone send me a nice email about a broken link on my site. I thanked them and made a little chat about the link in question. As a response, the person wanted me to add their link to my site. I felt silly, having been thinking this contact was a genuine concern about my site, and finding out it was only about building backlinks for someone I don't know. At least have a longer conversation with me, before you push your sale or link. Please.

It's important to consider how the sites and apps and services like Twitter and Facebook are constructed. Facebook was built to make you addicted. Addicted people are the worst conversationalists. They are too busy to get their fix.

Part of the way these sites and apps and services keep you addicted are the engagement notifications and metrics. You want to gain more likes, more comments, more replies, more ReTweets, more shares. At the cost of actual meaningful connections and conversations. I have seen people on Twitter complaining that their latest oh-so-smart update didn't get the same amount of likes as their other updates. Seriously? Are you seriously complaining about that? Is it really important?

The online conversations have became invasive. When I started my journey in connecting with people first all around the country, and then all around the world, the usual way of getting into a conversation was logging in. Every time I wanted to chat with folks on IRC, I had to make the effort to separately log in. As a matter of a fact, I had to first find a computer that was connected to the Internet. Often the logging in just didn't work or servers went down or the connection was dodgy.

Now you're kind of expected to be available all the time. People have gotten really upset with me when I haven't responded to their (not that important) messages right away. You are expected to be always logged in and have all the notifications on. You may even want it that way, cause otherwise you might miss something. You don't want to be that guy who pops into the yesterday's conversation the next day.

I have turned off most of the notifications. Only selected notifications are on my phone, and sound is off the most of the time.

It's all just so noisy and invasive. Everyone trying to outwit everyone. Everyone hooked on likes and other engagement. A constant stream of notifications.

I'm aware how I'm not the best conversationalist. I have a short patience and a terrible need to be right. A regular know-it-all. On top of that, I don't like to insert myself into other people's conversations. So I often end up standing by and watching while others chat. Not because I didn't want to join in, but because I'm afraid I wouldn't be welcomed. Besides, all the noise tends to make me confused and distracted.

That's probably why I prefer email. Of course, with email things can go south as well. Including too many people to the recipients. Replying to all of them, even when not everyone needs to participate in this particular branch of the bigger conversation. Forgetting (or "forgetting") to include someone who should be included. Demanding an immediate response. Misunderstanding and not reading the whole email before responding. Spam and more spam. Too many promotional emails from that list you entered thinking you'd get one email a week, at most. Oh, but that's a whole different problem, not necessarily part of this whole conversation thing.

But when it works, it works. It's direct, as you choose the recipients and there's usually an actual reason why you are sending the email. It can give you and the other person time to think. It's long form, so you can try and explain thoroughly what you mean. It doesn't demand an immediate response, but also the conversation hasn't ended by the time you have formed your thoughts in sentences. It doesn't include some random person, who feels inclined to enter the conversation without invitation. It can be more intimate, slightly old school, and somehow less noisy and invasive. At least, if you turn off the notifications and don't constantly check your email.

I want to have meaningful conversations with people all over the world. Those kinds that explore a subject, find a solution, and induce learning. I want to have fun and make silly jokes. I want to get to know with other people. Not just being told how I'm wrong about everything. Or being bullied. Or helping someone boost their ego. Or promoting fringe theories and wild conspiracies. I wish to let the other person collect their thoughts and not yell at them all the time.

I think we can do better with all of this amazing technology.

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