Art Of Debate Lost On Americans

Ben Metcalfe: Mena Trott (co-founder and president of Six Apart) gave, in my opinion, a badly toned and way-off-base speech at the Les Blogs conference in which she requested for more civility in the blogosphere. She appealed to bloggers to be kinder in their commenting, and think about the feelings of the person they are communicating with.
I found it very jarring on many levels. For a start, this was a European blogging conference – and one of the underlying challenges I took away from it was how we mediate the different cultural approaches to blogging across the different European countries. And that’s before you factor in the various different American cultures too (there were more Americans at this conference than anyone other than the French!).
How people comment and how people relate to one another on the blogosphere is a cultural issue – and it seemed strange for Mena to be advocating what sounded like a very ‘West-Coast America’ approach to a conference of Europeans. Europeans are, if anything, known for their frank exchanges during conversation – certainly more than the Americans.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Hi David
    When you talk about European culture being known for frank exchanges, are you talking all of Europe, or just some areas? In my experience of S. European countries it has actually been harder to get frank exchanges going in public forums. Or even more precisely, when I work within a certain professional domain, I see a great deal of difference in “frankness” or putting one’s opinions and ideas out forthrightly. One could argue there are gender differences too, — but again, they vary so it would be off base to make assumptions.
    It is a difficult thing and we can’t paint with a broad brush. Some of my more “frank” correspondents are from the US West coast. Does that reflect their culture or their individual set of preferences. Our differences and similarities are a complex fabric.
    Bottom line: the question of different cultural approaches to blogging is a great one. I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.
    You may want to peek at Bev Trayner’s blog, Em Duas Linguas where she often looks at the challenges of being of more than one culture and how it impacts her (blogging) experiences. Lots of food for thought.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Nancy. Just to be clear, it was Ben Metcalfe who wrote the above passage. I merely picked it up from his blog.
    Yet, I do believe some (not all) Euros could debate circles around us. For instance, I love to watch the Brits in Parliament debate one another. Can you imagine Dubya in a setting like that? I can’t.

  3. Ah, I didn’t see any quotes so I was confused. I wasn’t familiar with the convention of this blog. Thanks for the cue.
    First, I’m nodding in total agreement about Dubya, but oi, that is a whole other problem! I’ll let that go for now.
    I wonder if we need to distinguish between debate and people talking AT each other. For example, there are some people who are brilliant at getting to the substance — without name calling or generalizations that evade/avoid the point. There are also other styles of interaction that aren’t the same as a British Parlimentary debate but which are powerful and effective, such as Boehmian dialog. So being great at effective interchanges around areas of disagreement is a larger field than debate. Or am I getting tangled in semantics?
    I think there is a huge style issue as well. Some people love a barbed conversation. Others avoid it at all costs. What is lost in our likes and dislikes is a genuine set of practices for effective interchange. That would be the goal I’d aspire to. Make any sense?