Deconstructing Nanny

I’ve belonged to a fair number of email groups over my years on the net. My current list is a fairly typical snapshot of what lands in my email inbox, and are devoted to the following interests:

Gnu Image Manipulation Program
Canine Genetics
Mark Helprin (novelist) l
Honda CBR motorcycle owners
Yamaha RD (vintage) motorcycles
All-breed Canadian Dog Shows
Local All-breed Kennel Club
Bernese Mountain Dogs
Miniature Schnauzer club list
Miniature Schnauzer private list
Mensa Political forum
posting frequency
almost never
almost never
on occassion
almost never
on occassion
on occassion

The atmosphere on these lists ranges from the dry and highly technical, to the completely unmoderated where the highlights include inspired forays of insult exchange, featuring four-letter-word derivatives that would embarrass a longshoreman.
Why mention this? Because on a great many of these lists, there exists a small subset of self-appointed netiquette nannies. And because there are others who do not subscribe to their personal code of conduct for online discusson, they conclude that we must be unaware of what we are doing. The solution? Enlightenment.
Here, is a sample of one such pronouncement that recently graced my inbox, recieved second hand. In my own little world, these essayists are nearly exclusively the domain of dog club lists. Dog clubs are a bit unlike other lists, in that a great number of members are likely to be “real life” friends, enemies, competitors – or a schizophrenic combination of all three. Thus, debate has more than a passing electronic existance.

Name changed to “Mr.Smith” -� Delegate
B***** County Kennel Club

Note that Mr. Smith has a title. Net nannyists almost invariably suffer from title seeking personality disorder.

A majority of special interest groups maintain Internet chat sites, which are referred to as “The List”.� If you own a computer and are a member of a club, organization, committee or special interest group, you know exactly what I am talking about.

It is relevant to make note that Mr Smith’s essay was delivered by email to a list. He nonetheless feels compelled to use the word “if”. This is lowest-common-denominator essay writing, based upon a presumption of the writer’s intellectual superiority.

It is a site where all involved in a program or topic can share thoughts,
ideas and discuss problems.� Most breed clubs, rescue groups, and even the Delegates of the AKC have such sites, with access, which is supposed to be limited to their members only.� They usually have a moderator who controls �flaming� the computer lingo for �crossing the line� so to speak.� Generally the moderator can pull the plug on one�s participation after violating the list rules.

Yes, there it is. He has described the very lists we are reading his message on. Apparently, we were unaware of this fact. Thankyou sir. You have our gratitude.

The next generation of �lists� is composed of common e-mail groupings where small groups can convey messages back and forth, to perform business functions, discuss problems and seek assistance.� These usually have an administrator who put them together, but generally are not moderated.

Satisfied that we are now aware of the existance of the email list we are reading, he kindly explains that there are different types of lists. Who knew?

In the context of the dog community, we have hundreds of sites dedicated to various branches of the dog world.� These sites are active 24/7, and can either be a major help to your group, or a major hindrance causing headaches and giving individuals a stage on which to take positions, which sometimes get out of hand.

Now, we are getting to the meat of this. This has nothing to do with email lists. This has to do with who controls the organization’s agenda. This, in a nutshell, is why these missives never appear on lists where all subscribers are equals. No one has status to protect.

Most lists have their dedicated individuals who never let anything get by them without a response or a retort.� It amazes me that they are ever prepared to respond to any message put on the list, regardless of time of day, or importance of the message.

He is “amazed”, because he does not spend the bulk of his day writing code, word processing, or manipulating digital images. If he were employed in a computer dependant field, he’d be more enlightened as to why some people are seemingly, always waiting to receive and send an email. They work at their computers.

There are those in the middle who check their e-mails once a day, and may respond.�

This would be him. The “normal” by which all others are measured.

Finally there are the lurkers, those who seldom if ever, respond, but read the e-mails anyway.�

These are the people that must be protected from the subversive influence of the first group.

Add to this the non-members of the list or group who receive forwarded copies of messages that were intended to be private to the group.� Whether active participant or casual observer, the messages reach many.

And, right on script, we get the cautionary tale. Having established his credentials as an expert observer of both the medium and of human nature, he now advises us that sometimes, people pass on information they recieve from others!
Apparently, this is a new phenomenon that arose with the invention of the modem.

None of the above should be a surprise to any of you,

Yet, Mr. Smith, you chose to fill several paragraphs with the blatantly obvious, in an attempt to impress us with your superior knowledge and get us to nod in agreement.
Having stated several things that we all know are true, he is about to introduce a statement that is less than true, in the hopes that we won’t notice.

so lets move on to what some of the list members call �The Power of
the List�.� As much as we try to think it isn�t so, many aspects of our sport are affected by list communications.� Many lists are used to manipulate elections, slant member�s ideas and in some cases, undermine the effectiveness of club officers and programs within an organization.

Finally – paydirt! This isn’t about email lists at all. This is about control.
This man belongs to a dog club. Dog clubs are a curious beast, the necessary spawn of a sport in which often fierce competitors must work together as volunteers to ensure that their sport continues to exist. A hobby for some, a livelihood for others, the self interest and conflicts of interest are often so intricate and tangled that it’s difficult for even the seasoned observer to keep track of alliances and feuds.
The sport is subjective, and therefore, highly politicized. Judges are selected through popular vote in some cases, popular politics in others. Positions on the boards of powerful dog clubs are seldom filled by those outside a trusted inner circle, unless there is real work to be done and they can be trusted as a dependable ally.
Even in the largest of clubs it is not unusual to find that a small group of these people – enemies, allies and necessary compliant worker bees, continue to occupy positions of power from one decade through the next, in a rotation that resembles a game of musical chairs more than it does a democratic process. Decisions that affect the members are made at the top, and information disseminated carefully as the controlling few see fit. Or at least, that’s how it’s always been.
Enter the democratizing power of the email list. Read this carefully:

There seems to be a mindset that says that if it is said on line, and some other participants agree, then it has to be correct. Often, those being the most vocal are considered to be the most learned on the topic, and less aware individuals will assume that the statements made are correct.� This in itself can cause an unfortunate shift in direction for a club or program, giving the list the power to make changes, even where they are not warranted.� If the list active participants are dissenters of a program, group or set of elected officers, then the list can develop a power of its own, often to the dismay and frustration of those who are trying to make change or facilitate an �in place program�.

Indeed it can. For those who have become accustomed to having to convince only a handful of people in private, it’s much more uncomfortable to defend their position to a large group of questioning, unallied individuals who may include the more qualified, the more eloquent – in public.

Most egregious of activities on the list is the backhanded insult, unwarranted rumor or the direct affront to individuals.� Despite rules against such antagonistic activities, these occur quite frequently, sometimes coming on the list under the �Oops, I didn�t mean to send that to the list� excuse.� Too late, it is irretrievable, and the damage done.

And he is correct in this. Prior to the inception of the email list, these tactics were the exclusive domain of ringside gossips and casual tidbits dropped in telephone conversations. The more powerful the ear you had, the more damaging your information. You should have to earn that privilege.

The responsibility for what is put on the list lies with each and every one of us.� We are fortunate to have modern technology that allows us to communicate to a large group of people without substantial cost and within seconds.� Remembering that it is not retrievable needs to be realized by each of us the second before you click �send�.

Translation: “Please, shut the hell up and just pay your membership dues.”

It appears that somehow writing a single copy of a message makes it easier to send caustic material.� Is it because we are not performing the act of printing out numerous copies, addressing envelopes or purchasing stamps that it seems to be a harmless act?� Libel is libel, no matter how you send it.� Lies and distortions don�t go away because they were sent electronically; they only take on a life of their own.� Don�t think that they are not being copied and forwarded on to non-list members.� If it�s a �flamer� chances are many list members want to share the impact of it with their own personal friends, and so it goes on.� This chain cannot be broken nor can it be known how far it goes.� It can be sent in seconds, the distance unlimited.

So what? Libel is libel if it is sent to a single person. A single email sent privately has identical potential to be forwarded, as does a letter have potential for copying and redistribution.
We’re back to square one: longing for the good old days when you could spin your tales and insinuations verbally, and rely on the likelihood of the listener to distort it just enough that you could deny its accuracy if confronted.

If the list has any power, it is in the fact that a ruse can be created by a few who create the illusion that their constant presence on the list endows them with correct and complete knowledge.� Their power comes from the sheep that blindly follow their lead.

Here’s a logical disconnect: what has “constant presence” have to do with knowledge or lack thereof? I would think it is an indication of any number of traits, either good or bad, but there is no direct relationship between verbosity and authoritativeness on a topic.
The sheep thing is just stupid. Sheep are sheep, and make no distinction between whom they follow.�He’s trying to convince the lurkers to distrust the usurpers to keep his own flock in line.���

Lists do however; have a purpose and place in the present world.

And our intrepid list nanny is about to declare what it is….

The intent in their creation was to establish a knowledgeable area where ideas could be exchanged, correct answers sought and problems shared.� When used correctly they can be an invaluable tool and a means for communication between people of like interests.�

This man has never heard of Lists are owned by individuals or groups, amd their reasons for being as varied as the people who have chosen to create them. But this doesn’t serve Mr.Smith’s message, which in reality, has nothing to do with the medium.
He wants people to behave “correctly”, so that they are less likely to pursue agendas contrary to his own.

In a perfect world, the lists would be used correctly and the good intentions behind their inception would be realized.� Unfortunately, that is not the case on many of the lists, where the pressure of competition, political aspiration and personal dislikes outweigh mutual respect of fellow competitors, fairness to political rivals and human decency to even those with whom we don�t wish to be friends.�

Why should a list communication group be any different than real life? Some of these people hate each other. That, in an organization that is highly politicized, is useful knowledge.

It is very difficult to stick one�s neck out on line and differ with the flow of the thread, but that is about the only way one can correct misinformation.� Each of us needs to resist the temptation to fall into the trap and give power to the list. Do not automatically believe that since it is written there, that it must be true.

And don’t take candy from strangers, get in strange cars or believe everything in the New York Times editorial section.

Most importantly, the next time you push your send button, reread your e-mail first.� The best way to avoid the spread of misinformation is to not let it pass your computer.� Remember, the worst thing about putting something in writing is that you just might have to read it again in an unflattering situation sometime in the future.

Yup. Someone might just fisk it for you.

One Reply to “Deconstructing Nanny”

  1. or believe everything in the New York Times editorial section
    I used to keep up with Safire (and only Safire), he was a much better writer during peace time.