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An Internet Community of Woodcarvers

A guest editorial by

Vic Hamburger (victor_hamburger@Lotus.com)

I have been dealing with and using the Internet for nearly 10 years, starting with an ALT discussion group or two. I found and joined first one woodcarving group, then another, and now yet a third. I have found a few common denominators with each and wanted to share them with all of us who use the Internet to exchange ideas. These hold true whether you are discussing woodcarvings, woodworking, model trains, or any other common interest.

First, a list starts with good intentions by the moderator. The Mod wants to open a forum to discuss an area of interest and sooner or later, sets some ground rules and opens it up to discussion. The group is small first, and generally polite, following the rules pretty well and treating each other with respect. Small groups are like that.

Later, a group gets more successful, gets larger, matures in their discussions, and broadens their interests. Members who have known each other either electronically or in person, tend to get friendlier, more open with their comments, knowing how far they can go poking fun at someone or prodding them into action or reaction. Meanwhile, other members have joined, remained silent perhaps, or not gotten to know others as well, and may take comments in ways unintended and be offended, or react to them without understanding to whom they are directed. One reaction may lead to other reactions and suddenly a variety of people are shouting at each other, exchanging diatribes in private mail, or worse, publicly lashing back at something said, hurting even more feelings. People get upset, angry with those they thought they knew, and decide it is time to move on, start or join another discussion and leave the old behind to wither without them.

There are seemingly thousands of carvers with computers now, searching the net for carving information, setting up and looking at websites, offering advice, and discussing everything from what knives to start with to the esoteric details of finishing and the differences between woods with similar names but dissimilar properties for carving. The carvers come from all over the world, and speak dozens of languages except that many of us speak only English and therefore we tend to keep the discussions limited to that language and expect others to read/write in our tongue.

As a group of thousands, we don't all come to the same places at the same time with the same questions and answers, and so we end up discussing the same topics month after month, in place after place, as new faces appear, old faces reappear, and old questions are posed again by and for the new comers.

Not all of us are computer whiz's, and don't know about:

Unfortunately, too often someone does something like this and another person gets upset and responds harshly. At other times, a discussion thread starts and it seems to be carving-related enough to let it go on, but suddenly people are complaining that it isn't carving and should be off the list, and why did it go on so long and why didn't the moderator stop it, and on, and on......and more people get angry and say nasty words to others, and some leave the large community to go elsewhere......

The recent discussion (on the Woodcarver List) around workshop wiring finally yanked my chain once too often. A comment was made that if wiring your workshop was a valid topic, then plumbing the sink for it should also be a valid topic, or snowplowing your driveway to your shop. In defense of the moderator, wiring your workshop is something that many of us might do, just as plumbing is, or plowing the driveway outside. The big difference was that doing a bad job of plumbing wasn't going to potentially burn down your shop, perhaps with your insurance not covering a home wiring job that didn't meet code.

With a cooler atmosphere, this might have ended with the moderator explaining why he let the discussion go on, but unfortunately, hotter heads prevailed, and more was said, feeling were hurt, and again, people picked up their carving knives and went elsewhere.

I find this sad and disturbing. We are all grownups in the carving discussion online (at least no one has identified themselves publicly as young carvers) and we ought to understand by now that we need to think about what we send to the list, be ready to apologize when we send the wrong thing, and most importantly, NOT respond instantly and heatedly to something that you disagree with. We have an election in the United States this year, and feelings will run strong with many people for or against a particular candidate. As a citizen, you're welcome to voice that opinion, BUT NOT ON ANY CARVING LIST. Take your comments to a political discussion group, send them to the national news magazines, forward them to your local newspaper, but leave the carving list for woodcarving and related topics. The same applies to every other non-carving topic.

As a fellow list member, I would ask, perhaps once again, that we each try the following:

The carving community has proved time and time again that we can be warm, caring, and concerned folks to others we have never met in person. We have also proved that we can make wonderful friends and house guests and hosts/hostesses in person! I have had the pleasure of being both guest and host with other carvers and consider them among my close friends that I love and for whom I care a great deal.

If we cannot treat each other kindly in a woodcarving discussion group, then I have serious doubts for our future as human beings. On the other hand, years of exposure to a wonderful group of friends around the world on carving lists has proved that we have more in common than meets the eye, and that we can and do co-exist in a warm and nurturing environment, but only if and when we all work at it, one posting at a time.

-Vic Hamburger