image_for_dumb_dumber_onlineI’m continually perplexed by the way lawyers interact online. In a profession where the ability to argue opposing positions without tossing off juvenile put-downs should be the norm, the vitriol just keeps flowing.

It’a bit like driving vs. walking on the sidewalk. On the sidewalk, we make room for people. When we drive, often we don’t. Hidden by nothing more than glass, we seem to think we are in  a fortress. We’ll chase fellow drivers down, cut them off, slam on our brakes in front of them, flip them the bird, and generally act like monsters. All  in a much, much more dangerous environment than a sidewalk.

Online, we do the same thing. Even those who don’t hide behind anonymity when responding to something find it too much trouble to comment in a fashion that adds to the conversation or points out an important flaw in another’s argument, writing style, or whatever.

Bad idea, poorly executed

Last week, I wrote a post that attempted to analogize shoveling snow with lawyering. Let’s just say it wasn’t my best work. Brian Tannebaum tweeted after reading it. His tweet was as straightforward as could be:

“I am now dumber.”
(This was followed by a link to my post.)

I am not suggesting that Brian’s tweet was particularly nasty, personal, or insulting. In fact, I read it and laughed, for two reasons:

1) Brian pointed out what I already knew: the post wasn’t great. It was a pretty lame analogy used in a navel-gazing attempt at professional empathy.
2) He tweeted his comment and a link to the post to his 4200+ followers. This made me wonder, does he want all his Twitter followers to be dumber, too? Is this a misery-loves-company thing? Or, more likely just another example of the ongoing “look at how stupid these legal bloggers are” campaign.

It’s not you, it’s me

I’m sure there are lots of examples out there of me being snarky for snark’s sake (that I’ve forgotten). I love sarcasm as much as anybody, and intensely dislike phony “nice” people. But can we get out of our cars and get on the sidewalk? Are we just too busy to criticize constructively? Or do we just not feel like it?

So, for no other reason than the human desire to feel I’m doing something positive for the lawyering community, or, just to make me feel better, from now on I pledge to:

1) Comment substantively on more on posts.
2) Link to stuff via Twitter or Facebook only if I add some specific reason why I recommend that people read what I’m linking to (or why I think it’s lousy).
3) Pretend the person I’m “speaking to” is on the sidewalk with me and can see and hear me.
4) Write better stuff myself.

Now, who’s with me?

(photo: businessman wearng dunce cap from Shutterstock)