We recently had a flamewar of sorts on our listserv of record. A very adult, professional one, but one that had a number of the hallmarks of flamewars found everywhere – adult, professional flaming, adult professional grandstanding and adult, professional calls for reason and peace.
Actually that last component of the discussion would have been adult and reasonable in any other setting. Here it had the same effect that calls for calm have in any other internet disagreement – to fan the flames.
Overall nobody was greatly harmed, but few, if any, had their reputations enhanced by it.
My reading? It’s a good thing. As a profession we’re wanting to get hip, but a lot of us have been approaching this internet thing with the casual flair of a Japanese ceremony. Its beautiful and done perfectly, but its not often risk taking. Sharing the opportunity to get a bit hinky together and find that while few, if any, got their reputations enhanced nobody’s got greatly harmed… well it gave us an opportunity to really experience the intertubes as it is for the people who are growing up with it.
What is that experience? Its complex, and its simple. Everybody’s trying to establish and maintain an identity, and then grow a reputation for that identity. The establishment and maintenance comes through the passing on of memes/facebook quizzes/etc. (do you know which Disney Princess you are yet? Me neither.) Simple. I’ve seen entire conversations take place using others’ words, concepts and images.
Or was that in the academic world?
Growing the rep requires risk taking. Not just passing on the meme, but reinventing it, subverting it or even making a new one. If it isn’t finessed right, the meme passers target you – and you are hit with a deluge of images such as the following:
My friend google tells me that’s there are 2.3 million images for the search terms “epic fail”. Because I care its one of the nice ones. Our hypothetical internaut is likely to be hit with images medical, scatological, pornographical, and sports derived.
Yeah, go figure that last one. I guess it takes all sorts.
What happens next? One wipes the egg off one’s face, and one moves on – to another community, to another identity or to a different role in the current community.
As library organisations engage by joining and creating their own online communities they are going to run into a well known law (warning: this law contains swearwords) of the internet. Some of the people will be accessing our content with the intention, conscious or otherwise, of creating flamewars. Whether we engage through the medium of an impersonal corporate identity or more personally only determines the tactics taken of these people.
If we want to up our reps… let’s take a few risks.
But keep a towel handy, just in case.
Here’s something to soothe.