SXSW: Us and Them. Wait ... who are all those other folks?

I'm a bit behind the wave on the recent dust-up at Les Blogs between Mena Trott and Ben Metcalfe. Wave? Was there a wave?

But I've had a chance to watch the video of the talk and questions, view the BetterBadNews report that Tish highlighted, and read Mena's blog post about how she and Ben left things. What struck me was Mena's question:

Is it possible to have the sort of productive face-to-face connection or conversation that Ben M. and I had offline in an online world? And what can we, as bloggers, do to facilitate that?

I think the answer is "Yes!" But this question is a perfect lead-in to a panel session at the upcoming SXSW Interactive convened by Nancy White and me titled "Us and Them: A Blog Conversation Guide (cf. Nancy's description of the panel). Nancy and I will be joined by Koan Bremner, Grace Davis (cf. Grace on civility), and Tish Gier, all of whom have made mention of the panel and the topic in various places. And since Les Blogs it seems that "civility" is in. Well, in for a good deal of discussion or a fair amount of drubbing or both.

My interest in civility was sparked when I came across Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct, by P.M. Forni, a cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project. This book forced me to reflect on my own behavior, and, to make changes. It also challenged my preconception that civility is about manners and being nice. In a crowded world manners and kindness are needed, but not sufficient. I'm only being civil when I'm listening to others, asserting myself, and taking responsibility for my behavior. I've found it impossible to avoid stepping on other's toes, or opinions. But I've also found it possible to apologize when I've hurt someone. And as Mena's story shows, it can make a world of difference.

For me, my habit of splitting between myself and others, and between us and them (when I think I'm part of a like-minded group), happens in a blink and more often than not leads to a conversational (or relational) dead end. (Before I know what's happened I'm thinking "I'm OK and you're a jerk!") But sometimes I'm aware that there are more than two perspectives. And this I find most generative ....

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(at the time of writing at least) I won't be attending the SXSW conference, so I'll miss your panel sadly.

However I'd be interested to know from the list of panelest is gunning for up-front, no-shit conversation.

Both myself and Mena discussed the "real conversation" thing after our little spat. I'm not sure if/where the two ideas collide or not (levels of civility vs mechanisms for real converastions) but I'd be happy to contribute a couple of lines to get the panel going - especially if everyone is going to push civility :)

(I should be clear - I'm not advocating ill-manners and anorchary, btw. I'm more pushing against people who who's viewpoint lead towards a watering down and toning down of conversation on the blogosphere. Ultimatly, I'm advocating straight-forwardness)


Ben, thanks for the comments ... much appreciated.

If you have thoughts you want to send along to SXSW, you can leave them here.

I am for authentic and honest communications. Sometimes I don't succeed. Sometimes I skirt an issue, just to avoid a conflict. It's not a great strategy, but there it is. Sometimes I speak before I think and end up embarassed and often wrong.

I have no problem with straightforward conversation and discussion. The less I'm honest with another, the more complicated things get. For me life's already complicated. I want to be considerate when I'm in a discussion and keep to the ideas. I also expect consideration for my own contributions. For me civility is about being kind and honest.

I got here quite by accident but wondered if you'd be interested in my thoughts. Really not my thoughts but I do link to some others who have written on this which you may find of interest:

"Les Blogs, backchat and all that" (

I'll be at the SxSW conference and hope to attend your panel.