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Unhealthy Obsession

Original post made by SkepticAl, Ventura, on Jan 9, 2007

Post after post after post, thread after thread, we whine and moan and speculate, impugn all of our public servants and insult each other... isn't it about time to consider that the anonymity and ease of these online exchanges does more harm than good? The wasted hours and the raised blood pressure... for what? Has anyone convinced anyone to change their view? Has anyone experienced an epiphany that justifies all of this belly-aching? Has anyone who was previously apathetic taken it upon themselves to make a positive difference? I'm not just talking about the Mandarin Immersion debate, but that's the obvious drama-of-the-month.

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Comments (12)

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Posted by ABC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2007 at 8:12 am

Yes, we are better off - even if some of the entries are downright stupid, way too emotional or simply inaccurate. I wish this Town Square had existed during the fundraising debates 5 - 10 years ago. Can you imagine what would have appeared in these blogs?! I find it refreshing to be able to test controversial ideas in these entries without having to assign your name to them. It helps me refine my thinking and in the end find more constructive actions to pursue. Some of the reading is painful, but good ideas and directions come from understanding all the strong emotions involved in school issues - and, to be certain, school issues invite very strong emotions to the table.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2007 at 9:46 am

I tend to agree with ABC. Until this forum came along, I was one of the people who had an uneducated opinion on many Palo Alto issues. I would read the newspaper and perhaps chat to neighbors or friends, but with the interruptions, etc. I got a very limited view of local issues. This forum on the other hand has been very enlightening. Yes there are times when someone is venting and says things in the heat of the moment which they do not necessarily mean to say, but better it be in an anonymous forum than in public where they have the embarrassment to live with for some time, or perhaps worse. It is difficult sometimes to realise the humor or sarcasm of some of the posters, agreed, but at the same time it is often difficult to do that face to face on occasions. Some people do come back and rephrase their comments when they have had time to rethink. However, for the most part, it is really a discussion we are having here and when you think that we are a group of strangers with common interest in a common topic, then this works remarkably well in getting a "feel" of how a cross section of the community is thinking. I can't think of any other medium in which we have the ability to get so many people together to be able to give their views and listen to others opinions, and basically educate ourselves on issues which relate to us all. Some of the research that some posters have done has been enlightening, and I for one would not have the time to do that research myself. And, it isn't one sided for all the research that shows one side of the story, there is soon someone who will come back with research that shows the other side. So in the end we have a well balanced, thoughtful, safe place to discuss issues and that just can't be a bad thing.

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Posted by poster
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2007 at 10:00 am

As an very active participant in the MI issue, I for one learned more about BOTH sides of the argument through Palo Alto Online than I otherwise could have, (factual, emotional, procedural, and strategic). I certainly could not have come up with all the pro/con concepts on my own - that was a community effort.

And even the most vitriolic poster was sharing invaluable information about the opposing point of view (and the opponents fatal flaws, if you will.) If you read carefully enough...

(The vitroiolic post itself might not have been the one of value, it might have been the debate that followed, or the earnest attempt to refute, that had the most value. If you squelch the nasty posters, then you remove the catalyst for the conversation.)

In fact, some of the most powerful information about the other side's arguments, process, etc., that we could have hoped to learn, were enable through information we learned right here in Palo Alto Online, that we could not have otherwise have learned.

I's say this online forum is abolutely a community service. It is the the incarnation of the purest form of democracy, a free flow of ideas and opinions, and the right to put them outthere, without fear of retribution, for whatever can be made of them, and whoever wants to sit around and read them. As the reader, take it or leave, entirely up to you. What could be more perfect.

The fact that people have reservations in naming their own names, doesn't bother me in the least. And the forcing of naming names could only result in a squelching of the free flow of information.

All the opinions, because they exist, and because they are freely expressed, have value. Some had more value than you might have realized. I had no issue with the heat, the vitriol, or the annonymity.

Yay Palo Alto Online!!!

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 10, 2007 at 11:55 am

I appreciate those responses. They express an ideal that is perhaps realized more often than I expected. The excesses must be tolerated, of course, in order to accomplish the good. Still, I find this particular debate (MI), with it's 15 or so threads, to be more of a turn-off than a magnet - I'm repulsed from the debate more than engaged. As a person with some background in education and language acquisition, and as a PAUSD parent, I would have expected myself to take more interest in this. But especially when it comes to posts that assume the worst about people's intelligence, motives, and actions, I find it quite unappealing. I think it also amplifies the voice of a small group more than it gives a representative sampling of community opinions.

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2007 at 12:42 pm

I understand your concerns and objections, but democracy is messy! If one ignores the random insulting posting (of which there really are few and PA Online seems to be doing a great job at discouraging it by their monitoring and deletions) I have learned so much more from reading these threads than I could ever hope to learn from any other source.

Ideas can be thrown out, tested, debated, modified, and questionable data is quickly challenged. We are an intelligent community and we are capable of filtering the comments on a forum like this. To me, Town Square is a dynamic and exciting new way for folks like me who don't want to trudge down to City Hall or the school meetings to be involved, register our opinions and engage in some intelligent, constructive dialogue. I just ignore those who post attacks.

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Posted by Not a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2007 at 3:28 pm

It seems Palo Alto has become one large childcare center. MI is one big example, the Mitchell Park library is another. And the soccer fields. Look at all the people who sign as Parent. Even Town Square asks people to identify themselves by school. Too much!

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 10, 2007 at 3:32 pm

Just to clarify, I hope I didn't sound like I have objections. I'm not looking for anyone to step in and limit discussion as much as I'm just raising the questions of inherent shortcomings, of how useful it really is when things get overblown, and how people might abuse or overuse this. Judinging by the reactions so far, I'm just the cranky guy these days and everyone else is getting more out of it than I am... that's fine.

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Posted by Pauline
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jan 10, 2007 at 4:19 pm

To Poster:

What a great way to see the posts, even the really nasty ones that could really anger or hurt. I am surprised to find myself agreeing with you. I am someone who didn't see value in the sarcastic or mean ones. But, you are right, the certainly helped people write back and clarify!.

Nice way to see them.

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Posted by Pauline
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jan 10, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Not that I am supporting increasing their number!

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Posted by Friend
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2007 at 4:50 pm

Got into this blogging when my children were home sick a couple of months ago and I was stuck in and missing my daily gossip with the other Moms at school and other places. I found this extremely stimulating and actually educational. Got involved in some traffic debates and a few others, and then of course the MI and teenage drinking debates.

To me, this is very much more of a healthy way to gossip. The fact that I don't always agree with all the other posts actually makes it more interesting. I consider all the other bloggers my "friends" and have got quite hooked. I find that I can't pass the computer without wondering what SkepticAl or Wolf or WalterEWallis, or whoever has to say. Am I addicted? Probably. But it is a harmless addiction. And I am sure I am more enlightened on local issues than I used to be.

So keep it up everyone - all of you - my anonymous friends. I love you all.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2007 at 9:55 pm

I am amused by an anonymous complaint about anonymous letters.

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 11, 2007 at 11:14 am

Hi Walter. I'm not complaining about the anonymity per se. Obviously most people prefer some degree of that, including me. (Hats off to you though! I wonder, are you retired, or independently employed? Work relationships are the main reason I post opinions anonymously). But above, I was just questioning the overall effect of the forum, in the sum of its parts. It's been interesting to see the responses here - thanks everyone! In a calmer moment now, I'm coming around again, but the bombardment around certain topics, and the occasionally extreme cynicism about public servants gets to me sometimes. I hope no one took offense to my sarcastic or satirical barbs dropped in here and there. Oh well, on to a happier day...

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