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Vive la Chatlist

By Gary Simpson
Posted Sunday, June 20, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - Ah, the Chatham Chatlist. It's often an enigma both to those who give it but a passing glance, or those who hang on its every word. A source of information exchange it is, but, oh, so much more. Poking around the Chatlist is somewhat akin to that blindfolded fella feeling around an elephant. It leaves plenty of room for interpreting what it is that you are feeling at any given time (from adoration to abomination and everything in between).

Remove the blindfold, stare it in the face and we all continue to see (and feel) something different because each person filters what they perceive through their own peculiar set of lenses. And we sometimes change glasses, depending on what we are peering at or what we want to see. So, trying to capture the essence of the Chatlist is a mercurial exercise, perhaps as daunting as seeking to contain a geyser spewing oil into the sea.

Still, there is the temptation to dive into the oily pool, try to clear the gunk from one's eyes and at the least make an observation and comment or two about the nature of the beast. The impetus for such musing by this lister usually occurs not when the list's waters are serene, but in the wake of some "cannonball" entries that make waves too turbulent to ignore.

Reading the Chatlist often (too often, it seems) causes me to recall the observation of an old colleague of mine. "There's two ways to get a rock into the water," he said. "You can toss it high and hard into the middle of the pond and make waves that everyone will see and hear. Or, you can slip the rock gently into the water at the shore's edge. Both will get the rock into the pond. It's up to each of us to decide how we want to get the job done."

If one could be purely objective (no mean task), that is, wear neutral lenses, how would one describe the Chatham Chatlist? Looking at it part by part, one could say (with the aid of their online Thesaurus): It's a list (catalog, inventory, register, record, roll, listing, directory and file) of chathamcentric (pertaining to Chatham county alone) folk who subscribe to an internet based public forum (meeting, debate, discussion, round-table, opportunity, medium and environment) in order to chat (converse, gossip, chew the fat, chitchat and yak).

That's a relatively neutral description from a subscriber's perspective of what the Chatlist is and does. It may also be safe to say that from a subscriber's perspective it is at its heart a "tool" to facilitate and enhance communication among those who comprise the Chatham community. As a communications tool it is provided by its keeper (moderator) with minimal instructions and guidelines and a laissez-faire approach to its management of content, tone and tenor. There is a basic precept that those who have been around the list long enough understand the moderator to embrace. It will rarely, but occasionally surface: "Play nice."

The admonition to "play nice" leaves plenty of room for interpretation by all or even disregard by some. C'est la vie. Any tool available for public use has the potential for misuse and abuse. If and when this happens either consciously or unconsciously by any user, it provides an opportunity for the values of the community at large to be tested, defined and stated by members of the community. At its best (used properly as defined by community standards), the Chatlist is a community asset deserving of appreciation and praise.

I respectfully suggest that the Chatlist is at its best when its participants use it rightly as an innocuous (inoffensive, harmless, innocent, safe, or mild) medium of chat. At its least (misused or abused consciously or unconsciously) it becomes a dangerous tool that negatively impacts community building and brings injury to the character, mind and spirit of the community at large as well as to individuals therein.

Every single post that makes its way to the viewing page moves the scale of community values and mores in one direction or the other. Every poster either raises or lowers the standard by which the Chatlist will be judged. Each member of the Chatlist has a responsibility to decide how they will get the rock into the water. or whether to launch it at all.

Viva la compagnie! Viva la Chatlist!

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