Oh Twitter. Yesterday was another day where I accidentally incited another riot with a poorly-worded tweet. Nobody is perfect, but it’s starting to happen with alarming frequency, and I wanted to understand why I keep doing this.
The ever-present ego
We read everything through our own ego filter. It’s how we apply new knowledge to our own situations. Whenever we read a tweet, blog post, article, book, watch a TV show, a film, a play, we take in what we’re reading and hearing and apply it to ourselves. How does this affect me? What do I think of this? Does this mean that what I do is right or what I do is wrong? It’s not that we’re entirely intentionally selfish, it’s just how we comprehend the world around us.
Specifically, if we’re working on the web, we tend to filter what we read through our own specialisms. If an article doesn’t mention what we think is incredibly important, we deride it as thoughtless. If a tweet doesn’t include that exception that we feel makes all the difference, we jump around, compulsively feeling the need to add our own opinions or defend our own positions.
Forgetting over and over
Somehow we manage to forget over and over what we’re constantly saying to each other: 140 characters is not enough for context. A blog post or article is just one facet of a topic, or a facet of a facet of a fragment of a subject. To always include every detail would take forever (and would make for a dull read) and, you know what, you don’t have to always be right.
I don’t introduce my blog posts saying “I am speaking from a position of authority here…” Because that would be a lie. In fact, I often do the opposite, but it’s still not necessary. Who is anyone to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’? All we can advise are the widely-accepted standards, and even those won’t be right forever.
One person’s point of view is exactly that. The wonder of the web is that we can put our ideas out there and others can help us refine them. We have creative and journeying discussions. We make progress. A lot can be learned and shared from something written about a controversial subject. If we don’t discuss these subjects, how do we expect people to learn? Even if we’re sure we’re “right,” how better can we help others to see our points of view? I value every comment left on my blog. If you look back through my posts, almost every one has a comment that has taught me something new, even if it’s just how other people approach things from a different angle.
Criticism comes in two forms
When we disagree with something that someone else has written, we must take the most care to express ourselves possible. Here I’m providing myself as an example of what not to do:
We write with our own contexts too
Now if you’ve never read another one of my tweets, that does come across as a rather unpleasant criticism of the author, 24ways and Bootstrap. And for that I’m really sorry and I’ve been regretting it ever since. Enveloped in my ego, I wrote it as if all my previous tweets about Bootstrap (from days and weeks and months ago, not prior to that tweet) were context. Not only does that assume that people will read all my tweets, but also that they’d remember them.
We must remember that we write with our contexts shut up in our own heads, and we should really provide them where possible. Linking to something that you’ve written on that topic, or just writing with a little more consideration, you can prevent yourself coming across as unkind when you really didn’t mean to appear that way.
I went on to write twelve follow-up tweets. Each trying to clarify, yet back-pedalling, on the last. And that doesn’t even include the multitude of @replies. I just made a big mess.
Constructive criticism is aware of context
Constructive criticism is when you may be negative about something, but your criticism explains why you think something isn’t right, and what could be done to resolve it. You don’t have to have the solutions to everything in order to criticise, but it shows respect to show that your opinion is relevant and considered rather than just a knee-jerk reaction.
If it’s not constructive, then it’s the other thing
If your criticism isn’t constructive, then chances are it’ll come across as personal, rude, unkind and possibly even trolling. There’s no wry smiles at the end of tweets, no sarcasm tags, and for all we try with emoticons and expressive animated GIFs, the nuances of face-to-face communication are completely lost on the web.
Of course criticism is important, if we all just go around telling each other how fantastic we are, we probably wouldn’t try anything new. The web community is a caring and protective place, but we need to make sure we’re contributing in a positive way.