Conversations in the digital world
I sometimes comment on YouTube videos. I do so when the topic really interests me and I think there is a blind spot in the presented argument, when the discussion might benefit from adding more nuance.
My comments tend to be larger than average. It is almost guaranteed that most people skip them, simply because “they are too long”. Maybe my writing is not appealing, or I was too late to the party (a few people still watch the video and my comment is way below the list).
On rare occasions, people reply to my comments to show their disagreement without providing a counterargument or explain in sufficient detail why they disagree. Sometimes they show their agreement too. They do so with short phrases that I see as an equivalent of a “Like”. I usually don't follow up in neither case.
On more rare instances someone takes the time to write a well-thought, reasonable and respectful reply. It feels like a real conversation going on in this digital world. I don't react immediately. Instead, I read it and let it sink for a while (hours or days). Then I go to my computer—writing on the phone is suboptimal—and reply again. This reply is often even larger than my original comment. I actually write it on a text editor first and take a bit of time to edit it before posting it.
Only a couple of times, as far as I remember, there was a valuable back and forth.
There are other digital realms that are explicitly designed to encourage real and meaningful conversations, but those fall short too in my opinion.
I strongly believe digital communities are, and ever will be, fundamentally different from communities (should I call them “real world communities” or “in-real-life communities”?). Many constraints that shape the relationships within a community do not exist in the digital world.
If I invite my neighbours home to have coffee, and start talking about a controversial topic, it is less likely we engage in name-calling. It would be unbearable awkward that in the middle of a conversation I just stop replying. It is impossible to instantly cancel someone simply because he/she said something I didn't like. Only the digital world enables that.
Of course, if the conversation didn't go well, I may decide to never invite my neighbours again. Fair enough. But If we would still be living in small villages where we depend on each other for our subsistence (i.e., living in communities), that's a different story. If my neighbour is also the only butcher in town and I want to cancel him, that means I need to go to the closest town to get my meat or become vegetarian. Sever relationships with others within our community range from inconvenient to life-threatening.
Conversations in the digital world are possible but rare. It requires bringing back constraints that have been removed. To try to see the human behind the screen whilst being treated as an avatar by almost everyone on the other side.