Monday, July 30, 2007

Read the Stupid Post

Let's suppose that you write a particularly informative blog post one day. I say "informative", because your intent is to present a personal analysis of a certain object or issue. You try not to advocate one viewpoint over any others, and you don't necessarily advertise yourself as an expert on the subject. You do, however, try to collect your thoughts and carefully organize them in an essay-type format. You want to speak to an audience, after all, and you want the topic to get the treatment it deserves.

Now let's suppose that you get one very angry reaction to your post. It rants and it rails against certain key items found in your essay, even going as far as to accuse you of bias, and claim that you have not given equal attention to all sides of the story. This scenario is, of course, not too unrealistic -- we stand the chance of offending people, no matter how well we make our preparations and how open we are in our style of writing.

Now let's add one last wrinkle to this: Let's suppose that that one very angry reaction turns out to be a complete misunderstanding. Let's say that whoever wrote it appears to have missed the point of what you were trying to say. Moreover, let's say that your rancorous writer accuses you of some offense that doesn't exist in your essay to begin with.

In an era where blog posts are disposable affairs and people are far more likely to skim through your words instead of reading them carefully, this is a very real scenario. What do you do in this case, ladies and gentlemen? What do you do?

I find that the knee-jerk reaction involves apologizing to the person and rephrasing at least part of your passages. This assumes that the blame falls on the author -- that is, if the essay had been phrased better, then perhaps this very angry person wouldn't have misinterpreted the piece and consequently wouldn't have written his very angry comments. In my humble opinion, however, this also assumes that the individual user is infallible: If he sees so much as a speck of dust on that marble statue in the corner, then it must obviously be the sculptor's fault.

Most writers will therefore toe the line here, and will gently point out the person's misunderstanding as well as clarify their position on the subject. This acknowledges that the fault can go either way: Maybe the writer was vague at certain points in the text, and maybe the reader just wasn't clear on the same areas. This is negotiation, plain and simple -- "I'll admit that I could have phrased this better if you'll admit that your understanding may have been flawed." It does the benefit of assuming that we're all reasonable people at heart.

There are times, however, when a writer can do nothing but scratch his head and wonder just how a certain piece could have been misinterpreted. You know how it goes: Sometimes a reader simply muddles "yes" with "no", "good" with "bad", and "left" with "right". Or sometimes a reader just latches on to some preconceived notion floating around his head and somehow refuses to let go in the face of a completely foreign topic. Or sometimes a reader ignores you completely. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.

Some writers ignore these people completely. If they didn't read the work properly in the first place, then they're not likely to listen to any follow-ups. Other writers lambast these readers, pointing out why their reactions are wrong (in no uncertain terms this time). Whatever the case, pure ignorance like this always gets a response from an extreme end of the spectrum. Sometimes, I suppose, you can't do anything apart from simply assuming that not everyone in your audience is as perceptive as you thought.

On the other hand, we usually go with the middle-ground option precisely because not everybody may be as perceptive as we think... not even us. We know that we're not always correct, just as we know that the reader is not always correct -- and we therefore allow for both possibilities.

That doesn't mean, though, that we can't derive a certain satisfaction from bawling out a person who doesn't bother reading anything before posting his comments. But of course, we're too reasonable to do things like that.

Er... right?


Ida said...


(I don't know what I just agreed to, I just skimmed through your entry. :P Hehe.)

Sean said...

Ida: This could have been a lot clearer, I admit. And shorter.

That said, at least you followed instructions...