When I was a primary (elementary) school teacher, one of the jobs I hated most was playground duty. It meant losing your precious lunch or break ‘downtime’ to wander an always hot and dusty playground, often trailed by kids who liked nothing more than to tell tales on one another. You had to keep an eye out for a little knot of kids; it almost always signalled a gathering over a new toy being proudly shown off, or just a game being played or a meeting amongst a gang of friends. It could also – and on rare occasions I’m glad to say – be one of those horrible physical kid fights – punching, rolling on the ground, always followed by tears and recriminations. You had to intervene, sort it out, dust them down and send them on their way with stern admonitions. It was also a lesson for me in reading the body language of everyone involved, even the onlookers, who were mostly shocked, teary and very very partisan – everyone had an opinion to accompany the pointing finger, “S/he started it, miss.” Ah, the days in the old schoolyard!
Sometimes things get a bit rough and tumble in social networks too, and emoticons notwithstanding – you know these 🙂 🙁 – you can’t read the body language of the respondents, so it can be difficult to know who are the trolls or trouble-makers, and who just don’t have the social or linguistic skills needed to put a case. Last night on Friendfeed – normally a fairly safe haven for robust discussion – a brainstorm session which I’d responded to was ‘interrupted’ shall we say by someone who was trying to put a counter argument. The big kids in the playground didn’t care for his contribution, and so he was ‘blocked’ – bye bye troll. At this point I left the group and wandered on, glad I wasn’t on playground duty any more, but disappointed at the outcome of the discussion. Shame though that some big kids still haven’t learned how to play nicely.