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Re: IRC Considered Harmful

by Xiong (Hermit)
on Jan 16, 2010 at 09:32 UTC ( #817748=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to IRC Considered Harmful
in thread How to choose the right module

I'm a Perl novice; I came to it after a career in hardware. It's a difficult transition; I've always written a certain amount of code but it's always been very close to the machine.

I try hard to do well and follow best practices; I study incessantly; but between my age and my very limited free time, I find it an uphill battle. You may add to this the fact that, for good or ill, I'm extremely literal-minded. I cannot pretend to read between the lines.

I find IRC both essential and infuriating. I follow the argument about discussions there being impermanent; but I have another viewpoint, as usual. Let IRC be impermanent; anything of value can (and should) be stored in a more permanent form.

IRC is essential because of the ability to go back and forth in real time. No matter how carefully I might phrase a question, I may leave something out, or simply make a mistake. Asking in real time gives others the ability to point out the shortcoming; and gives me the ability to correct it. With IRC, there's potential for a cycle of try-this, pastebin, and talk about it. The same can be done on a message board but it can be messy. To be quite frank, I'd prefer not to store my most foolish mistakes indefinitely.

Another point is that if I raise an issue on IRC, there's the chance it might move forward before I move on. If I post to a board, I can't wait a day or a week to get a comment; then reply to it and wait another day or three for more feedback. I could; but meanwhile I'm going to have to settle the issue one way or another, so I can move on to the next issue in my code. By the time a better solution emerges from the message board, my ad hoc solution is buried under dozens of commits; three other issues depend on it. It may just be too late to uproot everything.

(I do understand ruthless refactoring. But there's a realistic limit.)

Now to "infuriating". I'm not a politician; I'm not even socially adroit. I'm as polite as I know how and I do understand very clearly that I have much to learn. I read the FAQs. I study online resources endlessly. I've read every general info POD included with Perl -- over and over, line by line. I've read Conway, front to back, at least four times; back to front and middle-out, spending as much as a day on a couple of pages. Before I raise an issue, I make every effort to understand just what I'm asking; and to be sure I ask clearly. I'm not always successful but I don't usually bust in with a question that could be answered in 8 keystrokes. I don't scream for attention or demand solutions when there's no interest. And I try hard, when possible, to help out the fellows (with even less knowledge than I've got) with the basics. And that's my limit -- my absolute limit. I'm completely unable to play political games, to toady, to grovel convincingly.

IRC seems made up almost entirely of people primarily interested in propping up their egos. I speak not only of those channels devoted to Perl; but the stench seems very strong in these. In some hypothetical channel #perl-jam, although the ostensible topic is how Jam can be used to write Perl scripts to automate fast-food kitchens, the main event seems to be people crawling over each other to prove themselves King of the Jam Hill. One isn't permitted to discuss the merits of Jam, not even in the most neutral terms; one isn't allowed to say anything at all about any point until the channel regulars have accepted that one is a true Jam fanatic and stood for a round of beatings. Ritual abuse is heaped on the mere mention of Jelly and anyone propounding Cream::Cheese is banned. I can see this to a very small point; we don't want Jelly fanatics abusing Jam in #perl-jam -- granted. But when a fellow wants to ask simply about some element of the Jam interface and is subjected to a lengthy loyalty test or forced to grovel at the feet of one of the regulars, it's just childish. This is a social atmosphere worthy of County Jail.

I suggest that the truly harmful aspect of IRC is that it engenders this culture of rudeness. The cliqueism and routine abuse affects the professional image of the community as a whole. I don't know if this is fixable; perhaps it's an inevitable effect of the medium. Perhaps the effect is felt less strongly by most users; they ignore the drivel. I suspect that so long as random strangers drop in with pure random noise and deliberately incendary remarks, regulars will always be inclined to circle the wagons and exclude anyone new.

We all have limitations and I'm aware of mine; when I run into rough stuff on IRC, I try to think if there isn't some way in which I might be in the wrong. That kind of soul-searching may build character but it's a hard way to fix a leaky faucet (or loop).

Is there such a thing as IRC for adults? Presumably one reason most of the conversation on PerlMonks is civil is that people invest over time in their accounts here; they're not quite as willing to throw it all away for the sake of self-amusement. I'd be extremely interested in an IRC channel discussing Perl in which, for whatever reason, there was a civil atmosphere prevalent. And I think it might be Less Harmful to all.

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