Let’s all grow up

A few days ago I wrote a comment on Hacker News. Here it goes.

I hate how being harsh has become fashionable. Whatever happened to manners?

This spontaneous reaction was in response to a blog that attempted to be humorous by using the word “fucking” multiple times in reference to Adobe’s UIs which were perceived as lacking a native look and feel.

I stand behind those words. Acting bitter on the Internet seems to be increasingly gathering the popularity amongst an audience that’s used to being amused and entertained by cheap attacks. Concepts like respect, courtesy, or civility – let alone class – appear to be all but forgotten.

It’s worth caring about this toxic environment, where nastiness and negativity are not only tolerated but to a certain extent encouraged, because of its effects on the community. A community that can be as big as the whole blogosphere or as small as the Ruby world, depending on which particular case you opt to focus on.

By simply fast-forwarding one or two days, we find Michael Arrington’s emotional article about an upsetting encounter with a conference attendee who spat on him, only to quickly leave, hiding himself in the crowd. In the same article he also mentions the serious death threats that he has received due to his popularity through TechCrunch.

You may disagree with Michael’s analysis of the so-called Web 2.0 world. You may also dislike his attitude, but disagreement amongst intelligent individuals has nothing to do with downright psychopathic behavior. Sure, the guy who spat and the wanna-be-murder are two extreme cases, but I feel that these are fomented by a large crowd that considers such acts as being acceptable – and even willingly indulges in verbal hatred against Michael every time he feels like writing about something.

Don’t think that Michael and I are good friends. He probably doesn’t even know who I am, and I have in the past expressed the opinion that sometimes his news coverage is far too gossipy and lacks technical substance. Yet, I felt really bad in hearing about the attacks against him. Such incidents are truly uncalled for.

Arrington has every right to write about what he wants, however he wants to – and to do so without being harassed by the community. As a matter of fact, he made a “small fortune” thanks to his writings, and his achievements cannot be ignored. But if you don’t like his style or his articles, go read something else. If you consider him a “jerk”, don’t visit his site. People have no right whatsoever to be abusive, opting to often hide behind the anonymity and lack of accountability that has become typical of the Internet.

The “irony” behind these forms of cyber-bullying is that the people perpetrating them are often “nerds”, guys who have been bullied in real life. Yet, in front of a keyboard, in the comfortable glow of anonymity, they feel powerful and type away their anger and desperation.

Michael Arrington is just one victim of the results of this high-school like behavior, and this episode is bound to become as popular as Kathy Sierra’s misadventure. Those two are high visible cautionary tales but there are other smaller (or less publicized) occurrences every day.

Despite being virtually unknown, I’ve had my share of negative comments. Because of my technical articles and opinions I’ve been called all sorts of names (and this from a community that’s supposed to be comprised of highly educated professionals). Some have gone so far as to say “I hope you die”. This is, if you ask me, ridiculous. Yet I could write “the sky is blue” and I would get hate emails about it. It’s really hard to have faith in humanity when you are a blogger. Mine was slightly restored by switching to comment moderation, a wise choice that I now consider paramount to any site where I blog.

I also dislike how all this criticism ends up creating prejudices against individuals before people have even had a chance to learn more about them. Case in point: a while ago I heard all sorts of bad things about Gary Vaynerchuk. The most common adjectives seemed to be “jerk” and “douchebag”. So I decided to find out more about him and started watching some of his videos. Guess what? I honestly think that the guy is awesome. He is energetic, has a passion for what he does, and shares his knowledge and love for wine and life with others. He puts himself out there in a very honest and straightforward manner. I find him contagious, funny, a morale booster, and definitely not an unlikable person. Had I stopped at what the critics said, I would have missed the opportunity to learn more about wines and this terrific person.

The last example I’ll give is a very touchy subject, but I feel it nicely wraps up this series of thoughts. After attacking some leaders of the Rails community, Zed Shaw has become a hero in the development community. People love the tough guy who makes them laugh by attacking people they don’t like (and sometimes don’t know) in the first place. This to me is sad. For me Zed is a “hero” for coming up with Mongrel at a time when deploying Rails reliably was problematic, not because he decided to vent his frustration publicly. He deserves respect for the code he wrote, not for attacking people. I saw a few videos of him presenting at conferences. He is highly informative and entertaining, a truly likable person it would seem. For that he commends respect from fellow developers and a beer if I ever meet him, not because he made it fashionable to bad-mouth Dave Thomas or DHH.

The fact that the smart people in the development community fail to see this is discouraging and speaks volume about the petty nature of many humans. As I strive to become a better person and genuinely offer my best to the communities I belong to, my wish is for my fellow Internet denizens to do the same.

Let’s all grow up.

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