I’ve stewed and pondered and argued, for quite some time now about the “rules” or guidelines for what folks should do in regards to online networks. Specifically, I bristle whenever someone writes about how others should act or behave or post or not post or whatever. I don’t know that there’s one code of behavior that specifically works across contexts and cultures and all the other separations and connections between you and me. It’s complicated, at best. Dave, in a recent post, describes it this way:
If you are in a community you are, in some way, responsible to that community, in a network you are responsible to yourself and the rules that govern you are those set forth by our society as laws.
I think Dave makes a useful distinction in that I am responsible to a community, but in a network relationship or environment, I am responsible to myself. I find that people tend to feel “guilt” or “worry” or concern when they choose to act in a way that is useful to them but does not reflect the rules or culture of someone else. While I understand those feelings and sometimes have them myself, I’ve come to think that most of them are wasted energy, often, but not always, devolving into distraction.
In my network relationships or environments, it’s not useful for me to act as others would prefer I act; it’s preferable to act in a way that maximizes the value I receive from those networks. I find that there’s great value, both to me and to others, when I act in such a way.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s value in me being a jerk, or in treating others poorly (which is, I guess, also being a jerk), but it does mean that my concern for the feelings of others should probably end right around the time I figure out what I need to either do or understand. The value to others in a network relationship, at least as I’ve experienced it, comes from the ability to follow my process or to improve upon it to meet a slightly different set of needs. (Or, perhaps, there’s an aesthetic value to some of this, too, that I’m not getting at here.)
Over time, I’ve come to call this basic guideline that governs my behavior “selfish selflessness.” Or “selfless selfishness.” I get stuck on which word should come first there, but, basically, it seems that whenever I act in a way that focuses on my needs first, it ends ultimately more useful to others than it would’ve if I was thinking first of others and then myself. That’s a bit quite contradictory, but the older I get, the more I notice that the truly interesting bits of the world and of myself are the contradictory ones.
I enjoy and gain value from following folks who are doing interested things, and who find beauty and passion and anger and whatever from the world in which they regularly engage. I’m quite content to follow along behind someone blazing a trail of their own understanding. I think others are, too. There’s certainly a place for considering one’s audience, but when it comes to network behavior, I find value in considering myself first, audience second. (There’s another conversation lurking in this paragraph about the difference between writing for self and writing for others, but I’ll save that for later.)
Dave has launched a much more formal exploration of community responsibility. I’m looking forward to his continued exploration, as well as the continuation of my own limited explorations. I think his dichotomy of responsibility for communities and networks is worthy of much more thinking. I guess, if anything, I’d call this idea of selfish selflessness (certainly, there’s a better term), my own network responsibility guideline.
But that’s just me.