Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Love of Online Debates

By now you have probably figured out that I love talking about my opinions, but you may not have fully understood why.  It's not because I think I'm right about everything (although I think I am, just like you think you are - Go on!  Admit it!) and it's not because I want to convince everyone that my way of thinking is the best.

I love sharing my views because I hope that you'll share your own.  I love the back and forth discourse on whatever topic I'm feeling passionate about at that particular moment.  I love hearing other people's views because they have the potential to enlighten me.  I can get my mind set on one way of thinking and along comes a thoughtfully worded paragraph from someone else and I find myself saying "I didn't realize that" or "I've never thought of it that way".  That's not to say that I'm always flip flopping on my views, but my opinion on any given subject is constantly evolving.

I, in particular, love an online debate.  You do lose the social aspect, and sometimes a person's tone is hard to read (was that sarcasm or an insult?), but I find it better than a face to face discussion for a variety of reasons. 

The main reason is that you can provide reference material for your thoughts - Here is what I think and here is an example (link to an article or study).  This is far better than a verbal discussion where you can mention a study, but the other person has no real means at the time of refuting it as they may not know anything about it.  Online, I can provide the study link and you might come back and point out that it wasn't double blind so the results could be simple correlation or could be interpreted in a completely different way at which point I might have one of those "I never thought of that" moments.

With this back of forth presentation of evidence, I find the whole experience much more educational.  If someone replies to my argument with something on which I have no knowledge, I have the ability (and generally the motivation) to immediately jump on the internet highway and educate myself.  If we were having a face to face discussion, neither of us would have that opportunity and the debate wouldn't do much to enlighten either side.

Online debates tend to not be instantaneous.  I make a comment.  You might read that comment tomorrow and respond.  I might read your response right away, but not comment until next week.  If we were face to face the replies would be expected instantly, therefore leaving no time to digest what you've heard, reflect on it, investigate it and respond in a well thought out manner.  Unless you're extremely knowledgeable on the subject and a superb debater (i.e. quick on your feet), the online world is a far more productive forum for a good discussion.

This time between replies also gives you the ability to calm down if something has been said which has upset you.  A face to face conversation might at that point disintegrate into an angry argument, but online you have the ability to walk away, to cool down and/or read the post again (maybe you misinterpreted what was said).  That time to collect your thoughts enables you to respond rationally and hopefully keep the conversation moving forward.

This of course all relies on my opponents having the same respect for the art of discourse.  If I make what I feel is a well thought out argument and someone responds with "You're obviously an idiot" then that person is just wasting my time and his/hers.  That said I'm absolutely open to hearing "I think you're wrong and here's why...".  All sides must try to be respectful and bring something productive to the discussion.

So if I write something that you agree with.  Let me know.  Show me more evidence that you've come up with that proves my hypothesis.  If you disagree, I'd still love to hear from you.  Tell me what you think and why.  Enlighten me!

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