Flamewars, 1839 Style

I’ve heard a lot of people say that the need to have arguments in public and win popular support is an unintended consequence of social networking services. I think that things like Twitter and Facebook make it easier and that they vastly expand the reach of an argument, but that we’ve had that urge to have flamewars long before the internet.

Here’s a data point for my thesis: a placard from 1839 that wouldn’t seem out of place on any online debate, aside from the dated language.

"TO THE PUBLIC: The object of this placard is to inform the Public that Gen. Leigh Read has declined giving me an apology for the insult offered me at St. Mark, on the 5th inst. That he has also refused to me that satisfaction, which as an honorable man, (refusing to apologise,) he was bound to give. I therefore pronounce him a Coward and a Scoundrel. -- WILLIAM TRADEWELL, Tallahassee, Oct. 26, 1839."

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


Dear Lyons: You Got Pwned Even Harder

John Gruber: Slick. Dan Lyons: Dick.

In his latest Daring Fireball blog entry, So Dan Lyons Called, John Gruber does a great job giving Dan “Fake Steve Jobs” Lyons a much-deserved pimp-slapping. It’s a fun-to-read response to Lyon’s article on the Fake Steve Jobs blog titled Dear Gruber: You’ve Been Pwned, in which Lyons, writing as a fictionalized Steve Jobs, takes great glee in the fact that Gruber got the story wrong – he wrote that AT&T killed the Google Voice app for the iPhone, after which it was revealed that it was Apple all along.

While Gruber got the story wrong, he did something very admirable and honourable: he very clearly and plainly admitted it, without weasel-words, and even went to the trouble of analyzing where we went wrong – openly, on his blog. It’s going to happen to all of us who blog about technology news, and especially when it’s news about an organization that’s as notoriously tight-lipped as Apple: sooner or later, you’re going to report something that’s not true, and the best policy, as mom always said, is honesty.

Even when Gruber makes seat-of-the-pants predictions, as he often does before big “Stevenotes” when it seems that Apple is about to announce something new, he tends to be more right than wrong, and that’s one of the reasons I read Daring Fireball.

In the article, Gruber does a good job of reminding us of where Dan Lyons is coming from – remember, he writes for Newsweek, which is a pretty sad substitute for Time, where the preferred style of reportage was described to me by a friend of mine who wrote for them as “sustained obviousness”. Yes, it’s all ad hominem-y. but it’s entertaining and filled with lots of truth. Besides, I’ve made my feelings clear about Mr. “Fake Steve Jobs” in my article titled Fake Steve Jobs is a Dick.

I come away from reading Daring Fireball articles knowing more than before, even when Gruber is operating in Smug Apple Fanboy mode. He’s great at “reading the tea leaves” where Apple is concerned, and there’s plenty of food for thought. The ideas, analysis and pointers in Daring Fireball make it a worthwhile read for me, even though I work for The Empire and he cheers for the Rebel Scum. On the other hand, the Fake Steve Jobs blog is just Dan Lyons doing a Steve Jobs impression with the dials turned up to eleven. There’s the occasional tidbit that’s amusing, but for the most part, there isn’t much meat there. If Daring Fireball is The Daily Show, Fake Steve Jobs bounces between being Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment and the Royal Canadian Air Farce.

(For those of you who haven’t seen the Royal Canadian Air Farce, consider yourself very, very lucky.)