Sunday, August 25, 2013

Anonymous Comments

I happened to catch a blurb on the news this morning regarding the decision that the Huffington Post (a well-known news aggregator site) will soon be disallowing anonymous comments on its site. I saw this and an attempt to justify this decision as a push to create a more civilized discourse from another point of view since this is nothing new to China-watchers. After all, authorities in China have pushed for similar legislation for all China-based sites in an attempt to crack down on rampant online dissent. And I was not at all surprised to subsequently find that Chinese media have picked up on this piece of news. While this piece by Xinhua (the China Daily) did not actively take sides (at least in English, my Chinese is not good enough to read that version and it would not be surprising to read there was a different version in Chinese), it should not be at all surprising to note that the article only referenced the "positive" benefits of registering all users who wish to leave comments.

The underlying message being promoted by the Huffington Post (HP) is that this will promote a more civilized conversation and less trolling with the oft-accompanying threats and other negative commentary that can derail conversations on the internet. And, on its surface, this is a well-known problem not just on the HP but almost anywhere on the net where people are allowed to post whatever they want with the belief that they are relatively anonymous. (It is also worth noting here that I have suggested previously here and here that the idea of true anonymity on the internet is a false one but that is an argument for another day.) It is a real problem but is stripping away that anonymity the right answer? And, if so, why is it the right answer for a US-based site but not in China? Should this perceived anonymity only be available in countries or sites that are run by totalitarian governments? Do we believe that civility is something that can only be achieved by unmasking those who only say things when they feel they won't be held accountable otherwise? And do we really believe that the US government is truly benevolent in comparison to other countries (I suspect there are more than a few people who would find that idea preposterous in light of recent revelations over the scope of spying on US citizens communications by the National Security Agency) in how it governs?

This is not to suggest that the HP is right or wrong in taking this move. Clearly they feel they are taking this move to make their site better for a majority of their users. But there are always two sides to every argument and it would be wise to see what the potential consequences of such a far-reaching decision may have to chill conversation that may otherwise not be possible if the ability to remain relatively anonymous are stripped away.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Written Word

A few weeks ago, I attended a writing seminar offered by a local writers group. Despite my love and passion for writing, this was the first writing seminar I have ever attended. And it helped to kickstart me and my aspirations. I've never been a believer in these types of seminars in the past as they seem to me to be a forced effort and I don't like being forced into anything, let alone something that I feel so passionate about such as writing. But I found it was not entirely like what I had anticipated. Instead, it was a session wherein we were given a variety of topics over the course of 4 hours and asked to write about them for anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes - by hand!

Now, let me point out here that I tend to write all of my stories, articles and blog posts on my computer. The only time I really write anything by hand is when I'm writing poetry. Poetry seems to be very odd to do on a keyboard and I feel it is more elegant, for lack of a better term, when done by hand. But I haven't written anything other than poetry by hand in years - though everything I wrote when I was younger was done by hand (and I have the boxes of papers to prove it!). To me, it just seemed much easier and faster to type things as I tend to type fairly well and it helps when my mind is racing along a story path to be able to keep up. Writing by hand has been slower for me for many years and I've really fallen out of the practice.

However, at this seminar, I did not take my laptop and had to rely on handwriting. And after the first five minute exercise where I could only write up a single paragraph, my hand felt like it was cramping up on me. I wasn't sure that I could complete the remaining 3+ hours. However, I did persevere through a series of writing exercises and, by the final exercise, a 30 minute process, I produced two full pages worth of a pretty decent story that the mediator even commended as a decent effort.

More importantly, though, I was hooked on writing by hand again! Whereas writing on a computer is still faster for me and my computer has the nice ability to auto-correct my spelling (well, my typing since my spelling is usually pretty decent), I have re-discovered the joy of writing by hand. It may go slower but that allows me more time to really organize my thoughts and produce (what I feel is) a higher quality of writing. It forces me to consider what I am writing rather than just putting words to paper and then trying to go back later and sort them out via a random editing process. And considering how I feel about editing my own work, that is a huge plus.

At some point, I will have to go back and transfer my writing back onto a computer so that I can save what I have in an electronic format should I decide to seek publication (an eventual goal). But, for now, I am glad to return to what some would call a troglodyte methodology in a world that increasingly disdains anything done manually. To me, it is a more peaceful and fulfilling effort and one that I have found is allowing me to do things I enjoy again. And, at the end of the day, isn't that what is most important?