Saturday, May 21, 2005

Parrots Have Very Little to Say

Email lists and bulletin boards are a pretty pathetic medium for communication.

Email lists can quickly get too large and result in a lot of stupid chatter, especially where dogs are concerned. It does not take too many "Tricky Woo" pet owners to put more gravel into your "in box" than anyone wants to read.

The Bulletin Boards are at least set pieces and you can skip over sections and authors and topics. The problem with bulletin boards is that most people have nothing to say!

In the terrier world, it seems, most folks are not digging on their dogs very often, and outside of repetitive medical advice (ear mites, ring worm, round worm, superficial wound treatment, hot spots, etc), there is not all that much to tell.

What I find astounding is that so little genuine research, writing or information sharing is done on these boards. There is a breathtaking level of ignorance about canine health, wildlife, natural history, terrier history, etc. but these boards are surely not an antidote for that!

When was the last time you read something useful or interesting or new about fox, raccoon, weasel, groundhog, badger or even ducks on one of these boards? When was the last time you got a bit of practical advice about shifting rocks, closing a wound, or finding permission? When was the last time someone even wrote a well-written story about their day in the field with the dogs?

Instead, what you find on the Boards are a great number of very young or immature people who seem to get most of their attention in this world by being combative, or otherwise wanting to work out their manhood issues (and yes there are some women doing that too!).

Most of these people seem to know very little about wildlife and not too much about dogs, either.

It is ironic, but true, that in the dog world the most common animal is the parrot
-- people quick to repeat what others have said or scratched out. The parrot offers no new information or expanded point of view. They have little experience of their own. Think for themselves? Go their own way? Dig their own dog?

Parrots don't do that -- they are bird-brained and can only mimic. They do not own a library card and cannot hold a shovel.

Starting a bulletin board is certainly easy nowdays, isn't it? These things are now offered up as free services, the code is easy and can be set up in an hour or two, and the only trick is to get people to keep coming back.

No committment or investment is needed. Just erect an electronic wall and let the graffitti spraying begin.

And graffitti spraying is exactly what you get about 95 percent of the time. In fact, this is the chief product of the bulletin boards -- not information but fighting, not shared experience, but name-calling.

It is like a Drunken Night at O'Malleys, except that the drunks are a thousand miles apart and hiding behind fake names.

The folks that run bulletin boards are big on "free speech," but it is pure posture to hide true poverty. The sad truth is that if civility were maintained on these bulletin boards, the real truth would come out pretty quickly -- no one has very much to say.

In the end, bulletin boards have not created a working terrier community so much as destroyed it. The pictures on "anti" web sites are all culled from bulletin boards. Educated people who might educate, motivate and represent the best of working terriers soon turn away from these boards, leaving the loud, stupid, very young, and unemployed to dominate the boards and represent us all.

It is reverse Darwinism -- a devolution to the unfit and the unsound.

I think history has shown that nothing has harmed the world of working terriers more than weakly moderated bulletin boards. Mud and slander has been slung on established breeders, 30-year diggers, working judges, and respected authors.

At times I have wondered if these things were Animal Rights honey pots -- bait stations set out to poison the working dog community. Whether intended or not, that is what most of them have become.

What a sad thing the internet has done to working terriers!


To read more on internet civility:

  • Dan W. Drezner's very good post on this topic suggests that that "in the short run, provocative, vitriolic, and/or sloppy writing -- by either bloggers or commenters -- can attract attention, whereas closely reasoned analysis sometimes falls by the wayside" -- a kind of internet "Gresham's Law" in which the bad drives out the good. This would explainin why stupid topics generate more comments than intelligent ones, and why a thread full of flames is always longer than one that actually contains factual information..
  • An article in The Washington Post suggests that "people often find that the way to get noticed is to trade new information, spread rumors or post more strident messages". In short, barking and biting dogs are rewarded, which is why there are so many barking and biting dogs on the boards and on the lists.
  • Civility and Synchronicity on the internet is an academic paper that focuses on political discourse which notes that "in cyberspace uncivil behavior and ad hominem attacks are widespread in political discussions" and that "flaming seems to be a more salient group norm in the online political context as compared to other forms of communication online." The authors note that "only 38% of flames contained verifiable information, while over 61% of non-flames provided information." In short the rude people tend to be ignorant and fact-free or, as the authors put it, "incivility may be used to mask a lack of factual knowledge."


Anonymous said...

This has definately been my experience. I have joined both terrier and spaniel groups that claimed to discuss "working terriers" or "hunting spaniels" only to have directions to dog shows or field trials discussed. While field trialing may appoximate hunting situations, it is not hunting.

Anonymous said...

I found myself getting sucked into the arguments. Then woke up and realised how much of a waste of time it is and an insult to my intelligence. Why argue just to argue? Most of the time the moderator is a show breeder and anything other than show breeder mentality is shunned. Maybe I am being a pessimist but the topics Mr. Burns lists are only interesting to a few, because few people really want to learn anything on online forums. They might throw an ear-mite question here and there, but nothing really giving significant insite or experience. That said, I am still guilty of visiting forums from time to time. This is because I know that if they could be used in a constuctive way it could be a really positive avenue of communication.