Please Learn to Read

May 17, 2012

(This article was first published on R-Chart, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

There has been a lot of chatter during the past week on HN generated by with Jeff Atwood’s “Please don’t learn to code”.  Actual posts included:

Each post had a relatively high number of comments associated with them as well.

Granted, Jeff selected a provocative headline that he knew would generate a response. Call it link-bait if you will, but his actual article was pretty well reasoned. A number of the responses and comments suggested that Jeff was promoting some sort of elitist snobbery where the programmer guild was restricting entrance to the uninitiated. The entire reaction by some was predicated by the title of the article alone. Which is why I am going to ask:

Please Learn to Read 

If you are going to react – and react strongly – to an article, be responsible and actually read what the author is saying. Creating a strawman to kick around is great entertainment. If your goal is to entertain, have at it I suppose. If your goal is to inform, as most of the people posting and commenting were, why not respond to the actual content of the author’s argument?

One of the tremendous values that the HN community has demonstrated over time is a certain objectivity and critical analysis that is not widely available elsewhere. Granted, we all have our biases, but ad-hominem assaults and polarizing characterizations don’t promote better understanding of a subject. They tend to shut down substantial conversation and the discourse devolves into a virtual shouting match.

Active engagement in a debate is a good thing. Again, the HN community allows for interactive participation in a way that is somewhat unique. It is something worth preserving. It is worth a few minutes of time before firing of a response that indicates the author you are opposing is mindless and malicious. In most cases, he is not – if the post made to the front page of HN chances are that it has been vetted by a few folks and introduces some ideas worth considering.

It seems to have become a requirement to title articles in a way that will get them initial attention.  This sound-byte mentality is perhaps unfortunate, but to be expected in our day where we filter relevant and interesting information so quickly.  It is often worth critiquing the selected title on its own merits or for not associated being with the actual content.   It is a different thing to read the title of an article, infer the content of the article based upon this alone (or a cursory reading) and responding on this basis alone.

Of course there are qualifications qualifications to what has been stated above… much of the conversation was civil and intelligent, some posts might promote ideas that demand a stronger response, there are links to materials immature, misinformed or downright evil.  But there has been a trend recently that became evident enough in this last set of posts to motivate me to say something on the subject.

I expect that there will be responses to this post indicating that I question the intelligence of the folks who responded and that I am inferring that they are illiterate (I am not – many of these folks are downright brilliant in terms of brute intelligence).  It is not a question of intelligence.  It is a matter of discipline and character.  It is a challenge use restraint when responding to another.   It is easier to simply allow one’s initial reaction to a headline to result in a response that is at best confusing and counterproductive and at worst hurtful.

What is easier is not always what is better.

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