The Sound Of Silence

The question about the rights of a writer and a commenter is full of gray areas. It used to be pretty straightforward when publishing was limited to print. Readers used to write letter to authors and editors. Reviewing of text was in the hands of few critics or peers who had the credibility to comment. Books used to exchange hands via libraries and used books stores, gaining annotations along the margins with every exchange. The chain of dialogue was always consecutive and never concurrent.

Online publishing does not enjoy this privilege.  The web has opened the flood gates of social interaction. Anyone can express any opinion and find a large audience with few measured efforts. Publishing your thoughts is easy. So is commenting on it. We live in a day and age where everyone is “Google expert” and feels it’s their right to express opinion. We rarely stop to think – what, why, who, when, where and how we should articulate our thoughts.

Lack of barriers means there is a growing gap between what gets published and what actually needs to be published. Similarly, who comments on what is a complicated concept. In both instances, someone decides that it is a good idea to break the silence and write about a topic or for someone to comment on someone’s work.  Perhaps this Zen story can convey the conundrum of social interaction:

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.

The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.”

The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?”

The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?”

The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”

Each monk broke the silence for a different reason. The first monk became distracted by one element of the world (the candle) and so lost sight of the rest. The second monk was more worried about rules than the meditation itself. The third monk let his anger at the first two rule him. And the final monk was lost to his ego.

There is no right or wrong way of looking at who gets to moderate feedback or who is entitled to give one in the first place. What we, as a society, need to spare more thought to is our reasons for breaking silence. Yes, freedom of speech gives us the write to express ourselves, but this fundamental right comes attached with duty. We’re responsible for what we express. And that applies equally to the writer and the commentator. Self-moderation is what we need, where online text is concerned.

Maybe there was a fifth monk in the story, who slept through peacefully, blissfully unaware of the value of his silence.

 

 

One Reply to “The Sound Of Silence”

  1. Your take on the online interaction debate is interesting, Anu. It is true that “with great freedom comes great responsibility” and we need to exercise our freedom of speech and expression responsibly. In that sense, I think it is incumbent upon each person to moderate their online interaction over a text. Writing hateful speech or issuing death threats on Twitter to someone because you don’t agree with what they write or believe in is misuse of the platform the internet provides to voice our opinions. It is, unfortunately, due to people like these that writers like Audrey Watters have to disable comments or others have to use filters to weed out potentially hateful ones. The monks you wrote about did not think before they spoke and as is often the case online, we do not hesitate before we write something. The ability of a text to thrive online depends a lot on whether it is nurtured with constructive feedback that allows it to grow, evolve and stay relevant.

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