Meditations on Listening in the Internet Age

I should probably preface this post by explaining that I am a terrible listener. Sometimes when I am trying to listen to someone I end up talking a whole bunch in order to explain that I am listening, or that I see where the person (who I should be listening to) is coming from. It’s pretty counter-productive. I’m also an extrovert, so when I get nervous I talk more, and sometimes even a lull in conversation can make me nervous. Oh, and one more thing, I’m terrible at taking constructive criticism. That’s probably one of my biggest flaws. I cannot even count the number of fights I’ve had with loved ones because I’m so damn sensitive, not to mention the times I just misunderstand what they are saying because I read too far into it.

Recognize this meme? That’s right, it’s from Hyperbole and a Half. Best ever.

That being said, I was discussing blogging with a friend the other day and she suggested “listening” as a topic to discuss. She had been browsing various blogs and shared a quote with me from Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. The quote goes like this, “Say anything. Hear nothing. This is the New World Order.” It’s from a post by Jamie about the internet, particularly on how it has changed from a place to find community into some sort of cyber courtroom. According to Jamie, everyone is so busy competing to be heard that no one is actually listening: “somewhere along the line, we decided that our opinions were more important than the things that brought us to them.”

Yeah… so I blatantly stole this meme from Jamie’s blog, just so you know.

So what does it mean to listen, really listen, during an era when anyone can say anything, and often without any fears of accountability?

That’s a rhetorical question, in case you were wondering, because I sure haven’t figured it out. I mean look at me, I’m already getting nervous and starting to natter…

My sister-in-law is an introvert, and man, is she ever the greatest listener. There’s one piece of advice she told me about listening that is just so brilliant I have to share it with you: People will talk, even introverts, if you only ask them questions. Everyone I’ve ever shared this big epiphany with has responded with a resounding “you never thought of that?”, but as a person who is quick to volunteers personal information just to lighten the mood, this truly was exciting for me to learn. If only I can now master the skill of question asking.

My friend’s challenge also got me thinking about what listening means for us bloggers. Here on CWR, we bombard you six days a week with our opinions on various aspects of culture, but does anyone actually want us to? That one isn’t a rhetorical question because I actually know the stats on how many of you read our blog and they make me super excited as I’ve had the opportunity of watching them grow.

“No, look at me here, in the face”

So there are some of you out there reading us, or accidentally clicking on the links we have scattered on our Facebook pages, but that still begs the question, how do we listen? Is listening perhaps only a face-to-face possibility?

Well, I don’t think so. As frustrating as the internet can be, it really has shifted the way information is shared. While television and books provided information from one direction (a source to a consumer) the internet allows the consumer to respond to that source in just as public of a way. On CWR that means you can comment on our posts (like Orion, our most faithful commenter) to tell us if you agree or if we are way off track. If you’d prefer to be more private you can also email us with suggestions. In many other areas of the internet the ability to respond has created the opportunity for full on public conversation.

For some people the internet is terrifying, but for a lot of other people it means finally having a place where people will listen to you.

As someone who isn’t the best listener and probably talks too much, it’s been really exciting to see the possibilities for listening that the internet opens up. I am (believe it or not) trying to become a better listener, but there is something I do really well even though I’m a terrible listener: I read.

It may seem like everywhere in the world it is only the squeaky wheel (or the loudest person) who gets any attention, yet in some ways the internet has leveled the playing field for quieter folk. In fact, certain personality types have found a trendy niche on the internet.

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I don’t know what to do about some of the crazy crap people (myself included) are able to say from behind a computer screen, but I still feel like the internet is something worth celebrating.  Even if it’s only because it sometimes forces me to learn some things that, in the real world, I might have been too busy talking to hear.

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