After Work Beer

Last Sunday I decided to /quit IRC for a while. I’m on almost two weeks of summer vacation, and since I nowadays feel I am in IRC mainly because of my work in Finnish Summercode for COSS, being on vacation is a perfect excuse to take a time off from something I’ve started to find extremely stressing and cause for mental anxiety.

But why is that? Why is it that something that has filled my free time almost totally for almost fifteen past years is now a source of anxiety and anger?

My use of IRC has evolved from being fun way of passing time and communicating with friends to source of information, connecting with people interested in similar issues and surprisingly, keeping in touch with the professionals, enthusiasts and issues I consider vital to my work and learning new skills. This comes with a downside: I expect a level of professionalism from people I discuss with.

I’m not saying being casual is bad. God knows my jokes are sometimes horrible, punchlines somewhat questionable and sometimes I’m just irrational. But I still expect a certain level of professionalism, not only on IRC, but in conference speeches, blog entries I see in various places, like Planet Ubuntu and Planet Gnome and all the rest I follow, in discussion forums and IRL meets. What I’m looking for is a atmosphere you’d expect to find in a pub on a weekday, after 5pm, but before 8pm. I call it The After Work Beer -atmosphere.

What is it? Lets do a thought experiment. Imagine going to a pub for a drink (be it alcoholic or just your favourite fruit juice) with your colleagues. While you might still talk shop, the atmosphere is notably more casual than at the office or on the shop floor. There’s still most of the social norms of the work place in effect – social faux pas that should be honoured in most cases, right?

This includes how you interact with your colleagues of different gender, sexuality, race, nationality, religion and so on.
A) Think of how you’d behave?

Consider then another group coming in the bar for an AWB just like your group has. They might be all female, all Indians, all Finns, all LGBT, all Somali, all Russians, all Muslim (or Jewish or Bahá’i), all English, all Mexicans.
B) How would you behave towards them?

here’s some hints:
A) You treat them respectfully as you’d treat them at workplace. You don’t hit on them, make racial slurs, tell them they’re going to hell because of their religion or sexual preference, you don’t aggressively pick them out from the group, but you don’t also ignore them.
B) You treat them respectfully as you’d treat them at workplace, being guests, customers or subcontractors. You don’t gang up on them to hit on them, make racial slurs, tell them they’re going to hell because of their religion or sexual preference, you don’t make a scene by calling them out by names from across the pub. If you’re interested in them, you go and ask them all to join your group, but you don’t single out just a few or feel insulted if the request is declined.

And this is what I expect of the FLOSS community, as we are trying to produce a professional level software and services that are on par or better than proprietary ones. We may not be working in the same company, not in the same country or share opinions on political, religious, sexual or whatever levels. But we are interested in reaching the same goal, and we need to work together to achieve it.

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13 Responses to After Work Beer

  1. Gord Allott says:

    I couldn’t agree more, There are a few channels that are like this and they are a joy to be in, there are others that are like this when certain people are around but mostly not, then there are the ones you only goto if you have to and are then shocked and dismayed at how people behave around other human beings.

    the “after work beer” synonym is actually a rather solid one i think, the Ubuntu IRC guidelines should really include something like that, It goes on and on about what not to do, but nothing about how to behave.

  2. desnotes says:

    I also agree with your point, that there is definitely room for improvement on some channels. I also like your analogy of being at a pub and showing the same respect. I remember reading what a blogger once said about what he expected in his comment section: The language should be the same as if it was a sit-down of dinner in his home.

    We want to encourage people to be part of FOSS and any type of situation where someone feels uncomfortable and leaves is the potential they might never return and that is a loss for all of us.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

    Mike

  3. DivineOmega says:

    That is a very good comparison, and I certainly think it should apply to development and support channels. For the most part I think it does, but I agree that there is occasionally a problem. For development and support channels especially this can certainly provide a bad view of the FOSS community by any ‘passers by’ who see such radical differences in behaviour.

    Of course some channels are set-up primarily for casual discussion outside of professional bounds. For these channels, the analogy of visiting friends or a (mature) house party would probably be appropriate.

    For the most part I think the behaviour of users on important FOSS channels (those that reflect upon its image) is generally good amongst regulars. However, there will always be trolls and the few who upset others, be it unintentionally or otherwise. I’m sure the anonymity and unknown nature commonplace on IRC supplements negative effects as well.

    Of course, accidents happen. Personally, I hate to be mistaken as a bad person simply by a poorly thought out/inappropriate comment be in it real life conversations or via electronic communications (in which tone is can easily be misread).

  4. Martin Clarke says:

    In polite society, people suppress all their little idiosyncrisies in face to face discussion. They also usually temper the way in which they express their opinion so that they get their point across with minimal argument. As a rule people do not like conflict, for arguments sake we can just put this down to the old fight-or-flight survival instinct. Or for a more real world example you would not start shouting and screaming at a random stranger should he do something slightly irritating, because you simply don’t wish to risk getting punched in the face.

    There is a mathematical joke that has been circling the internet for some time:

    Normal Person + Audience + Anonymity = Unrestrained emotion

    On the internet the physical realm is irrelevant.

    Anyone who has had experience in online gaming or has ever read the youtube comments section will testify that people do not show the same courtesy on the internet that they do in real life, and why should they? No one knows who they are, where they live, what they look like. There is zero risk, so why show restraint? It is impossible to get into trouble.

    Even in areas with controls in place, codes of conduct, threats of banning and other punishments, people will still push the limits. Some will do it as a stress let out, other, more manipulative and sociopathic, people will do it for fun.

    I am not saying this is acceptable and by all means call for greater control, though not at the extent of freedom of speech. The internet is the one realm of true freedom of speech (much to humanities detriment in certain areas) and we should not sacrifice it.

    That said, you will never eradicate this behaviour while there is zero accountability, one must deal with it in a way that does cause undue duress.

    On an unrelated note: I think that using the gender specific “nerdette” does not display the gender equality you say you desire. If you wish frank discussion without any biased then I would suggest you use a description that does not state that you are in fact female.

    • myrtti says:

      > On an unrelated note: I think that using the gender specific “nerdette” does not display the gender equality you say you desire. If you wish frank discussion without any biased then I would suggest you use a description that does not state that you are in fact female.

      My reasons for pointing out my gender in my blog and in my daily life are to be an example and a role model for others, and to make others comfortable with the fact the community has women in it. I assume the fact I state clearly I’m female SHOULDN’T affect the conversation any more than in a real life discussion when others see me dressed up in pink Emacs t-shirt and jeans wearing my long hair on ponytail and smelling girly. I’m not going to dress up in a burlap sack to hide my personality, identity, interests or boobs.

      • Martin Clarke says:

        If you want a frank unbiased exchange of ideas is completely and utterly irrelevant of what and who you are, be you 8 or 80, male or female, man or beast. If you have the intellect to argue a point constructively then you should be heard. Extolling the fact that you are a woman in programming is counter productive to what your apparent goal is.

        Also your response would imply that you are naive, as to assume that when speaking face to face in real life people ignore all base biological impulses. Be they any form of attraction or repulsion it is near impossible for any human to ignore all these little opinions, be they your personal appearance or the timbre of your voice.

        My point being, if you want perfect equality you are either going to have to deal with an emotionless, soulless robot or have every personal detail ignored and simply be considered an intellectual entity, there is no middle ground.

        • myrtti says:

          yes, I am naive. I live in a dream world where I wish people would treat me as I treat them, especially when in professional surroundings.

  5. DivineOmega says:

    Thinking about this issue further, perhaps the more immature attitudes seen in some places within open source communities is due to the ever increasing popularity of open source software.

    With the popularity and new user-base Ubuntu as a distribution has brought to open-source communities, we are bound to be seeing an increase in users in many differing age groups and maturity. In addition, I believe once Google Chrome OS is released, it may provide a much greater boost to these communities as suddenly many more people become aware of the existance of alternative operating systems.

    Not that I think this will be a bad thing. The huge boost will probably bring new interest, new users and indeed more development for Linux-based systems. Undoubtedly if Google Chrome OS takes off, there will likely be much more development for Google Chrome OS initially, and later, other Linux-based operating systems, by both open-source developers and commercial (perhaps proprietary?) developers.

  6. Erigami says:

    During my undergrad I discovered that bars automatically exclude some people. The presence of alcohol on premises dissuaded a number of muslims from attending.

  7. Tomasaurus says:

    Well, let’s be honest. If you worked with those people and objected to them, you’d probably _not_ spend your afterwork time socializing with them.

    Open source is not a workplace, and I hope it stays far away from ever becoming like one

    • myrtti says:

      Funnily enough, open source is my workplace, and I’m not the only one… And if I objected to them, we’d still have to work together – but how comfortable would we be working together then?

  8. mike says:

    Just came accross this, thanks for an *excellent* phrase to describe _good_ online communities “The After Work Beer – atmosphere” (kind of depends on you having experienced this ;)

    Regarding another group joining your space (pub); the analogy still applies, if they are a large group , give them some space (and be prepared to go over and introduce yourself if that is within your personality type) but if they are small and “hovering” around your circle, then welcome them in, and let them join the conversation naturally.