Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ode to a Mailing List

I first came upon the mailing list a few years ago. At that time, I was coming off two years of literary inactivity and two more years of careful probing into the local writing industry. I felt that I was on the cusp of what looked like a perfectly plausible writing career, and I decided to take steps towards that end. This list looked like the healthiest writing community of its sort on Yahoo! Groups, so it was the first one that got my subscription.

Now, you don't take signing up for a mailing list lightly. Any populous mailing list will result in a lot of messages in your inbox every day, so you usually have to brace yourself for the onslaught. You also have to have quite a few expectations of the list itself -- to me, this was a question of how many contacts I could make within the writing world; how many fellows I could meet and discuss the details of the art; and how many creative opportunities I could find nestled within the pages of their public fora.

One other expectation, however, was the fact that I had to leave the list someday. Considering the circumstances, now may be the right time.

It's not entirely the list's fault, of course. No, most of my complaints concern the stuff that I see in my inbox each day. I expected critiques, discourse and advice when I signed up; instead I constantly get unoriginal forwarded articles, "vanity" posts that serve as non-subtle links to somebody's blog, unwanted media advertisements, and solicitations for seminars that have barely anything to do with writing at all. I do get a few shreds of interesting discourse about once a month, but that's about it.

In short, it's probably high time for me to get on the horse and move on into the sunset. I know that there are other less populated, more developed forums out there. I don't want to continue subscribing to one that doesn't offer me any benefit at all.

Part of me feels like sounding off on the mailing list itself. Oh, you know how it'll probably go -- I write a really long letter mouthing off the list and all the people who turned it into the glorified walking archive of spam that it is, the denizens take the perceived insults personally and start calling me names, and others take my rants a little too close to heart and start a crusade to clean up the discussions. All in all, normal human behavior. But the more I think about it, the more I think that I shouldn't.

I mean, people have the right to post what they want. It's their piece of the Net, after all. As a member of a mailing list, you can use your time to either start some constructive discussion, or you can use your time to send bits of spam to everybody. Whatever the case, it's still your right to do whatever you want with your time -- and if the mailing list supports what you do, then I'm not going to complain about it just because I'm a member who happens to dislike it.

We can make any number of arguments over whether this opinion is right or not, I think. I imagine that some of us out there would rather take the high road in this case -- you know, dust off the tin star, mosey down Main Street, and clean up the town. If you have good reason to do that, then go right ahead by all means. But on my part, the welfare of one mailing list is farthest from my mind. I'm not interested in redeeming this one little thing when I have a lot of other little things sitting around waiting for my attention.

This logic shouldn't just apply to mailing lists. I mean, there's a whole Internet out there, and there's bound to be quite a few people, places and things that either offend you or insult your sensibilities. Depending on the situation, you could either give them a wide berth, or go in with guns blazing. Me, I'd usually rather leave them the wide berth. I usually don't have a reason to contest any claims, and there are plenty of other places that can hold my attention.

Sure, you can fight for what you think is right, but you still have to have a good reason to do so. You can't antagonize anybody just because. If I had a greater stake in the mailing list (as if, say, I was its owner or something), then I'd stick around, bring the people back in line, and try to run the spammers out of town. As it stands, I don't... and basically, I won't.

It's the same with the Net, really. If I hold differences against somebody's website, then I'm not about to suddenly strike up a campaign directed solely against that person. I find it far more logical (and practical) to ignore him. If I had a direct stake in the affair -- plagiaristic offenses and reputational damages come to mind -- then I might take some sort of action. But as long as I don't have a good reason to do anything drastic, then I won't. Any other person has about as much right to the Net as I do. Any other person has about as much right to their opinion as I do.

And that's why I'm just plain leaving. The spammers can have this mailing list, as far as I'm concerned. Throwing some heavy-handed complaint into the mix would just be placing some unwarranted emotional investment into something that's really not worth the trouble.

You might have a different opinion, of course. You might want to do something completely different in the same situation. Heck, you might actually take offense at this entry in this blog and decide to complain about it in a forum of your choosing. If that's the case, then whatever you do is your call. This is one of your rights, after all.

Just don't expect to complain for no good reason at all and expect people to take you seriously for it. There's a perfectly good stable of logic behind having at least one leg to stand on, and it most definitely involves the fact that you don't suddenly collapse on top of your own argument.

That's some fair advice up there. Take it or leave it as you may.

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