I got a lot of snarky comments yesterday when I asked a couple of questions on my blog. This was after posting a proposal for a new kind of commenting system.
Most people who commented simply objected to my proposal, liked nothing about it, and told me why they like the current form of commenting. A few people chose this time to make a personal attack, mostly ageist, the one ism you're not supposed to call people on. There wasn't much (if any) discussion of the idea. Nor would there have been if I had open comments on that post. Pretty sure it would have been the same. Some people would say they like it, others would say they don't. Others would write comments that had nothing to do with the post. I'd moderate-out the abuse. Most would be cries for attention. That's what Internet discourse is like in 2010.
However, the best posts for comments are the ones that ask specific questions, like how long does it take for alcohol to reach the brain, or where's the missing spacebar on the iPhone 4. It gives people a chance to show what they know, and get a feeling they're helping, which is the best of commenting on the Internet.
Why I have comments: I hope I might learn something new from the people who read the blog. It's mostly selfish. I like that there's a side-benefit that it creates a record for other people to learn from in the future. I get a lot out of that on other forums on the net. Esp when it comes to technical problems, these discussion threads can be invaluable.
But rebuttal, esp principled rebuttal, really doesn't add anything to a comment thread. Obviously there's room for disagreement. And of course it helps people feel heard. But that's for them, not for me, and not for future or current readers. Being very blunt and direct, it just doesn't interest me. I don't post here to get into debates. If someone wants to start a debating site, one that really works and doesn't just rehash childish points of view, I might show up there from time to time, when I feel like debating. But then it's going to be as an equal. Here, on my blog, I'm a host, which in some ways makes me more than equal and less. It's not a good context for debate. Maybe other people's blogs work that way, more power to them and vive la difference.
And by the way, my post was a proposal. My hope was that it would spawn other proposals, other new ideas for systems of discourse. Where is the creativity? Where are the people who would like to try new ideas, no matter where they came from? I'm sure they're out there. But there's no place for them to comment because the debaters crowd them out. I wonder if some of the people who vehemently defend the current form of commenting realize that there are lots of people who won't participate in a system dominated by mostly mindless and repetetive prattle?