Starving for Conversation

9 04 2006

Last week I wrote a piece on anorexia, and my feelings that we as a society get very mixed up when we talk about “eating disorders.” I’ve belabored my points in the comments therein, so I won’t rehash them here. Many received it well and seemed to agree. There are a couple of things, if I had it to do over again, that I might phrase a little differently. But the piece caused a huge stir, my points were taken out of context, there was a great deal of shouting and gnashing of teeth and discomfort from a dozen or so blogs, several thousand people read it, I was personally attacked by feminazis, and now I have a strange rash. All – to me – signs I was doing something right.

It all brought two unrelated issues to the surface for me. First, people often see what they want to see in an article whether it is there or not. For example, I was accused of confusing anorexia with restraint when I was trying to do the opposite. In my piece, in fact, I delineated them – accusing women of mixing up restraint behaviors with anorexia and emphatically asserting that they are not the same thing.

The second issue is that all the attention and conversation generated by the piece has refreshed my frustration with the medium of blogging.

On one hand, it’s a beautiful way to quickly and efficiently make news or opinion available to millions. On the other, the conversation it creates is fragmented and discontinuous and dies quickly.

The article generated a lot of discussion on a couple of feminist blogs, a fair amount of conversation here, and there is really no elegant way to weave the conversations together. Most comments are “drive-by” comments. Someone leaves a remark – often a great point that deserves response and catalyzes further conversation – but that person often either does not return to the blog or they do not return to that particular article. Considerably fewer than 1% of readers engage in any subsequent conversation. For this, I don’t blame the readers – I blame the tools available to them.

I know there’s been a lot of discussion about this stuff – but it’s mostly griping and little has been put forth in the way of solutions. There are some hack jobs out there – but they require a lot of effort, time and sophistication on the part of the user. Most users just want to read an article and move on. Many would engage in conversations if there were an easy way to do so. Thus far, no elegant solution has emerged to enable this.

At this stage, the tools seem to be as fragmented as the medium. Online forum systems such as phpBB and vBulletin are wonderful conversation tools, but they too require the participants to return to the point of origin. I’ve spent time playing around with content management systems like GeekLog and Drupal and Expression Engine. I am somewhat intrigued by them, but I think such tools need a desktop-level persistence in order to really fuel this as a new medium. Geeklog seems to combine the forum model with the blog model best, and I’ll probably continue to play with it.

I think a system that combined the publishing power of blogging, the conversational power of a phpBB or VBulletin, and a desktop widget would be very powerful. Users could engage in real-time conversations on topics from whatever sources they please without being required to “show up”. Their participation would be visible to them inside their daily computing world and conversations could be ongoing.

Is there a solution like this, and I’ve just missed it?

12 responses to “Starving for Conversation”
10 04 2006
Chris Abraham (14:32:31) :

I am amused. Why? Well, let’s say that someone decided to eat 900 calories of french fries. I am looking at you, you “potato chip vegetarians.” It requires a lot of thought and a lot of discipline to make that 900 calories-a-day diet actually work nutritionally. If you follow the Kelly Ripa “I can eat all the Altoids I want” diet then you will become sick. If you hoard your calories for one-sane-meal-a-day then you will become sick. If you don’t make one of your major hobbies your care and feeding and your nutricional balance then you will get sick. As a comparison, if you eat one peanut as someone who is allergic, anaphylaxis. So, a rigorous 900 calories-a-day is possible but more realistically, we need to eat lots of different things — most of it waste and fat and garbage — in order to, without intent and forethought, keep ourselves out of nutritional debt, out of nutritional danger.

Just because you are a vegan doesn’t mean you’re healthy. And just because you’re a feminist doesn’t mean you’re right. And just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you can’t get well. And you just because you can’t become a size 1 doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to become as healthy as you can, gievn your genetics, socioeconomic level, activity levels, and current health.

10 04 2006
Chris Abraham (14:35:46) :

I don’t recommend doing a message board. I don’t recommend them because they’re time sinks and they don’t communicate into the blogosphere like blogs do. Maybe there can be some sort of threaded comments, but I really believe that what is there is perfect! It is linear and easy to read and there is little chance of “getting missed” so please do not fall for becoming a message board moderator/facilitator. You wull rue the day.

10 04 2006
Chris Abraham (14:32:31) :

I am amused. Why? Well, let’s say that someone decided to eat 900 calories of french fries. I am looking at you, you “potato chip vegetarians.” It requires a lot of thought and a lot of discipline to make that 900 calories-a-day diet actually work nutritionally. If you follow the Kelly Ripa “I can eat all the Altoids I want” diet then you will become sick. If you hoard your calories for one-sane-meal-a-day then you will become sick. If you don’t make one of your major hobbies your care and feeding and your nutricional balance then you will get sick. As a comparison, if you eat one peanut as someone who is allergic, anaphylaxis. So, a rigorous 900 calories-a-day is possible but more realistically, we need to eat lots of different things — most of it waste and fat and garbage — in order to, without intent and forethought, keep ourselves out of nutritional debt, out of nutritional danger.

Just because you are a vegan doesn’t mean you’re healthy. And just because you’re a feminist doesn’t mean you’re right. And just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you can’t get well. And you just because you can’t become a size 1 doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to become as healthy as you can, gievn your genetics, socioeconomic level, activity levels, and current health.

10 04 2006
Chris Abraham (14:35:46) :

I don’t recommend doing a message board. I don’t recommend them because they’re time sinks and they don’t communicate into the blogosphere like blogs do. Maybe there can be some sort of threaded comments, but I really believe that what is there is perfect! It is linear and easy to read and there is little chance of “getting missed” so please do not fall for becoming a message board moderator/facilitator. You wull rue the day.

11 04 2006
Aruna (04:00:08) :

Hi,

My apologies if you do want to be done with this issue, but reading the comments here and elsewhere it does seem like a matter of crossed wires. I don’t think a lot of the comments you’ve got have been addressing your general argument about anorexia and Western society and overcomsumption – they’re addressing something else, that’s pinged them specifically from this part of your article:

So, please, ladies – the girl who has the body the rest of you wish you had is not anorexic. The girl who delicately refuses the eighteen-ounce wedge of deep-fried cheesecake the rest of you dive into after dinner is not anorexic. The girl who is obsessed with fitting back into those size 1 jeans is not anorexic. She’s just thinner than you, knows how to say no to herself, and it makes you jealous.

I think that sounds to a lot of women like a very familiar voice – a voice that many of us have been carrying around for most of our lives; in my case, my father’s voice. The girl who has the body you/I/we wish you had is better than you. She is worth more. You? Are worth less. Worthless, even. I’m aware that isn’t what you said, and probably wasn’t what you intended to say – but that’s what a lot of women seem to have heard. Certainly, when I read it, that’s what I hear. I’ve heard that a lot at various times in my life and it’s kind of a perpetual background thing now. Leaving aside the fact that for the sake of health losing weight is an excellent idea, and the fact that yeah, it is connected to sexual attractiveness, which isn’t a myth but a fact you just have to live with – this idea that your worth as a human being and your attractiveness as a woman are inextricably linked is something a lot of us have been trying to get over for a very long time. That’s what a lot of the “feminazi” blogs I’ve been reading seem to be addressing. I agree that they’ve missed your point, but I think you’re missing theirs. I don’t think that ‘talking past each other’s ears’ effect is a fault of the medium in this case – it’s just a failure of empathy. Which happens.

11 04 2006
Anthony Citrano (21:14:38) :

Aruna,

You’re right.

While I stand by everything I said, if I had known the pickup it was going to get, I might have tried to be a bit gentler. Then again, had I been gentler, I don’t think it would have received the attention it did. And I’m glad to have catalyzed all that conversation.

Thank you, though – your points are well taken.

15 04 2006
drumgurl (15:09:51) :

I, too, wish you would have at least addressed people like me who are naturally size 1. I am proud to say I pig out all the time and *never* delicately refuse food! I actually wish I could gain a little more weight. I have gained 20 pounds since having a baby, and I’m still too skinny (in my opinion). But I look a hell of a lot better than I used to, which was flat boy butt and size 00 in juniors hanging off my bony bod.

I also didn’t like the word ‘delicately’. Why do we have to refuse food delicately? That’s not the same as having good manners. I mean, my daddy always used good manners when he turned down food, but I don’t think he ever did so delicately. That word just rubs me the wrong way. It’s as if refusing junk food isn’t enough. As women, we should do so *delicately*.

Does refusing junk food delicately make you healthier than just plain refusing it? I don’t think so.

15 04 2006
drumgurl (15:09:51) :

I, too, wish you would have at least addressed people like me who are naturally size 1. I am proud to say I pig out all the time and *never* delicately refuse food! I actually wish I could gain a little more weight. I have gained 20 pounds since having a baby, and I’m still too skinny (in my opinion). But I look a hell of a lot better than I used to, which was flat boy butt and size 00 in juniors hanging off my bony bod.

I also didn’t like the word ‘delicately’. Why do we have to refuse food delicately? That’s not the same as having good manners. I mean, my daddy always used good manners when he turned down food, but I don’t think he ever did so delicately. That word just rubs me the wrong way. It’s as if refusing junk food isn’t enough. As women, we should do so *delicately*.

Does refusing junk food delicately make you healthier than just plain refusing it? I don’t think so.

27 04 2006
Chris Abraham (16:44:55) :

“Does refusing junk food delicately make you healthier than just plain refusing it? I don’t think so.”

We are not talking here about health so much as appeal. Forcefeeding yourself like a champ at the dinner table is not attractive on men or women.

It is appealing for men to be masculine and it is appealing for women to me feminine.

N’est-ce pas?

27 04 2006
Chris Abraham (16:44:55) :

“Does refusing junk food delicately make you healthier than just plain refusing it? I don’t think so.”

We are not talking here about health so much as appeal. Forcefeeding yourself like a champ at the dinner table is not attractive on men or women.

It is appealing for men to be masculine and it is appealing for women to me feminine.

N’est-ce pas?

28 07 2007
Passerby (13:21:57) :

I support your stance. On both articles. Perception and reality are both problems that the world, and probably most America, needs to work on.
I did, however, find a typographical error in the fifth paragraph, sixth line. It says my where it should say by. Terrible pet-peeve of mine.

I found this article via an anorexic oriented web blog who was calling for your head. As fondly as I like the creator of this web blog, she’s wrong and took you out of context. In a video against you she mentioned that anorexia and obesity are completely different issues. They happen to be opposite sides of the spectrum; imagine that. So, why is she getting huffy with you when she herself just excluded her issue and passion from your own?

Fighting against obesity and anorexia are both noble fights that can, in fact, coexist peacefully.

28 07 2007
Passerby (13:21:57) :

I support your stance. On both articles. Perception and reality are both problems that the world, and probably most America, needs to work on.
I did, however, find a typographical error in the fifth paragraph, sixth line. It says my where it should say by. Terrible pet-peeve of mine.

I found this article via an anorexic oriented web blog who was calling for your head. As fondly as I like the creator of this web blog, she’s wrong and took you out of context. In a video against you she mentioned that anorexia and obesity are completely different issues. They happen to be opposite sides of the spectrum; imagine that. So, why is she getting huffy with you when she herself just excluded her issue and passion from your own?

Fighting against obesity and anorexia are both noble fights that can, in fact, coexist peacefully.

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