Blogging Bayport Alameda

October 14, 2009

Mark Irons: Bloggers Anonymous

Filed under: Alameda, Guest blogging — Lauren Do @ 6:36 am

When I first came to this coast from the east I landed in Berkeley, a wide-eyed hippie kid. In the 1980s I transitioned through the Oakland artist scene along the estuary corridor before I ended up on the shores of Alameda in 1991, married with children. Back then, letters to the editor in Alameda papers regularly lamented things like our being represented by Barbara Lee because she was an acolyte of avowed anti-militarist Ron Dellums, and Alameda after all was a good Navy town. Those letters never stated skin color being part of the objection, but I never doubted it. Suffice it to say I felt like the “other” in a town where my politics were well to the left of the average citizen.

In 1991 I didn’t know many folks in town, nor the political landscape, and I had never been part of a community of adults doing things like raising families and paying mortgages. I waded into public debate with abandon. If there was some racist old fart writing to the paper I was going to rip him a new one, consequences be damned. I felt an outsider anyway, so what was to loose, insinuating myself into an old boy network where I would never really be accepted? Who needed that?! Instead I became somewhat infamous. Over the years it’s not been uncommon for people to respond on hearing my name with, “Oh, you’re that guy.”, the look on their faces ranging from bemused to startled.

Fast-forward to 2009. The issues of today seem more pressing, and the stakes higher. Despite the economic decline of print media, the debates on various issues rage on in letters and editorials, but we have added the blogosphere to the mix.

When I first stumbled on the fledgling Blogging Bayport, hosted by Lauren Do, I knew that wading into blogging could easily spell my doom, if I were not prudent, which often I am not. I had spent years bringing my voice in print venues from an angry radical to a more conciliatory tone, without forsaking the iconoclast of course. I went from being a wild man to being relatively civilized. Having participated in the process of public meetings, having children in public schools, sports and other activities, I had also begun to meet people and build relationships in the flesh. There was more to this community than an old boy network, which didn’t seem so impenetrable after all.

Initially a community of bloggers can be deceptively intimate which could allow one to believe that the only people reading comments are also responding. In the early going at Blogging Bayport this was probably close to the fact. Since then, an invisible metamorphosis has occurred and the vast majority of silent readers at Blogging Bayport, the “lurkers”, have surely turned those who comment into a near fringe minority. The comments made by some of us can genuinely be on the fringe, and those which are protected by anonymity are often more so.

Speaking anonymously, people may feel free to speak candidly and make constructive comments, or offer valuable information, which they might otherwise feel constrained from doing. The whistle blower is an example, which illustrates the value of people being able to speak more freely under protection of anonymity. The other end of the spectrum is what bloggers refer to as the “troll”. A troll’s main objective may be to dredge up controversy or provoke people with extreme statements, taunts or attacks, often for their own amusement as much as to advance any meaningful point of view. If one gets off on being a prankster, trolling can become a real bad habit. Latent exhibitionism and all manner of aberrant tendencies can run amok.

Hyperbolic exchanges among the self-identified and anonymous alike push the envelope when it comes to civil discourse, particularly on the Internet. Deliberate provocations, frequently by trolls, can cause even the most well intended commenter to be blind sided, and seduced into crossing lines they had never intended. This makes for tough reading for the conflict averse among us who may be driven away, though most of them come and go without us ever knowing.

Blogging can be a bit like wading into a vast soup of the collective consciousness, some Jungian alternate reality. We aren’t exactly certain how it reflects the “real world” community at large. Like the mind itself, the expanse of this community is potentially unlimited, but despite this vastness or because of it, a blog can take the small town effect and condense it to the size of a locker room. Even the smash mouth antics of a locker room are face to face, nose to nose, but the anonymity of the Internet encourages people to do what they generally won’t do in other public realms. When was the last time you went to a City Council or school board meeting and somebody rose with a burke like disguise and voice distortion to anonymously slander or threaten? Occasionally, in full view, individuals do make strong public displays. But if we are shocked we can admire their guts in being accountable for their actions and facing those they accuse.

Almost twenty years after showing up in Alameda I’m no longer a wide-eyed hippie kid, just a cynical old hippie guy. I’m happier on days I abandon the keyboard and jump on my bike, but the issues that confront this town, the country and the world are so compelling, it’s hard to pull away and ignore them. Blogs are an efficient means to have exchanges but I miss the days sitting in Café Med on Telegraph Avenue debating with strangers. In a world of real people with faces and names we can bond even in disagreement, but despite any constructive exchanges we may have here in cyber space, without knowing who we are addressing, there are real limitations put on the bonds of a virtual community. To help counter this disaffection, one habit I have adopted is to seek out other bloggers through the blog host or on my own and try to meet with them over coffee. When the blogging habit gets out of hand there’s nothing like face time for keepin’ it real.

Mark Irons has ten months remaining on the Historic Advisory Board and prefers verbal sparring over coffee.

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15 Comments

  1. Well said, Mark, well said. Thank you.

    Comment by Michele Ellson — October 14, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  2. Nice post, Mark. And it is fascinating to learn about the history of civic debate in Alameda…and also your place in it.

    Comment by Eve — October 14, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

  3. I thought this was a delightful post, Mark. I love the image of someone standing up in a public meeting with a voice distorter! And I’m glad you mentioned how even the most well-intentioned of us can get blind sided by a troll…been there, felt that.

    Comment by Susan Davis — October 14, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

  4. It’s LOSE, not loose

    Comment by Harrison Smythe — October 14, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  5. “…an invisible metamorphosis has occurred and the vast majority of silent readers at Blogging Bayport, the “lurkers”, have surely turned those who comment into a near fringe minority. The comments made by some of us can genuinely be on the fringe, and those which are protected by anonymity are often more so.”

    Could you expand on that observation, Mark? In what context do you use the term “fringe”? How do you gauge the “silent readers” numbers and viewpoints? My sense is that the vast majority of comments on this blog are left-coastish which would put them squarely in the mainstream of the left-coast. Those who do venture other points of view are most times ignored…but that’s the nature of the venue.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 14, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

  6. Jack R. – what I understand Mark to mean (feel free to correct me Mark) by “fringe” is that the commenters are a minority of the total readership (a small, frayed edge of the tapestry that is Alameda?) and that is wasn’t necessarily a commentary on the political leanings of the commenters.

    Comment by david burton — October 14, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  7. Mark’s words… “The comments made by some of us can genuinely be on the fringe,…”

    david burton-You’ll note that I accounted for your interpretation by asking Mark in what context was he using the word “fringe”. If your interpretation is correct, than the my second question comes in to play (How do you gauge the “silent readers” numbers …).

    My comment on the the Bayport blog being a subset of the left-coast mainstream tapestry can be researched, however I do not know what mechanism one can use to research the vastness of the readers-but-not-commenters majority Mark speaks of. I’m not saying there is no way to know how many read but don’t write, it’s just that I don’t know of it.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 14, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

  8. 4. whwere would the worodl be without your keen eye?

    6. right. and by that I mean “correct”, not referring to rightcoast.

    Comment by Mark Irons — October 14, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

  9. # 4
    loose vs lose…maybe “loose” is correct. He could have been speaking of his mouth since he admits to being an unaccepted imprudent iconoclast willing to rip a new one on an old fart..

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 14, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  10. Interesting perspective Mr. Irons …

    Comment by Jeff R. Thomason — October 14, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

  11. Mark,

    As someone relatively new to the blogs – but who has made a career of exploring new approaches – I appreciated your piece. Your comments captured perfectly my experience with the blog to date.

    Regarding the lurkers – I know that many, many people (dozens at least and probably hundreds including forwarded comments) have seen some of the posts I have left here without posting any comments themselves. I’ve also been told that comments left on this blog and The Island have played a significant role in shaping the campaigns around the Alameda Point Initiative.

    All-in-all, after my brief experience with blogging, I quite agree with you that “Blogs are an efficient means to have exchanges.” They are much more than that, too. They can change the nature of political discourse by incerasing both the transparency of the discourse and its inclusiveness.

    Yours in Blogging,

    Bill

    Comment by William Smith — October 14, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

  12. Thanks for your insightful perspective, Mark. I always value your comments, even if we disagree.

    5, 7: Jack, It is well known that many more people read and subscribe to daily or weekly newspapers than contribute letters to the editor.

    While we may not have precise information available on how many hits Lauren’s blog gets, I’d be willing to bet that we who contribute are a small minority of all the blog’s readership. Mark’s assertions are far from unreasonable, even without substantiation.

    Similarly, you never see more than a tiny minority of Alameda’s thousands of citizens attending a City Council, Transportation Commission, or Historic Advisory Board meetings. (The Council Chambers on holds about 200.)

    Comment by jon spangler — October 15, 2009 @ 12:09 am

  13. I’d be willing to bet that those who contribute are a small majority of all the blog’s readership.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 15, 2009 @ 8:24 am

  14. 10., 11., 12. glad something resonated. None of us get it all right. If we never venture any opinion we are surly safe, and maybe also boring. Many of us have experienced misread intent in email and blogging seems to up the ante on that, which is just great for the average provocateur who wants to use ambiguity to mess with people.

    9. Jack, Right, “loose lips sink ships” and all that. I hope you aren’t taking the old fart remark personally as it was clearly directed at a specific letter writer in the early 1990s (who I also implied to be racist) and unless you were using a pseudonym and got it past the phone verification back then, I don’t think it could have been you. But if you think that shoe is your size, that’s not on me. I was relatively young then but I’m now a member of AARP.

    Comment by M.I. — October 15, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

  15. MI.
    The only self-admitted old fart I remember on this blog is ANT. Glad you’re a member of FAARP, I’m trying to be a member of Young Riflemen but I’m Bohunk and not Lithuanian so they won’t let me in.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 15, 2009 @ 10:13 pm


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