Many years ago, a neighbour -- I'll call him X -- planted a banana tree in my building's garden. Another neighbour, Y, inadvertently cut it down. He apologized, but to this day, X has not forgiven Y. Not just that, X actually believes the whole building hatched a conspiracy to cut down the tree. "I won't forgive them," X once told me, "until they all come to me on bended knees and apologize." Not just an apology, but grovelling. That's what the man wants.
No knees, may I assure you, have been bent at X's door. Years later, he still waits.
I'm reminded of this story by what I feel in the wake (and I hope like hell it is the wake, I'm heartily sick of this) of the wide-eyed frenzy that kept several of us bloggers going over the last week.
First: Rohan Pinto, your copying of posts was wrong. An honest mistake sure, but wrong. I fail to understand why it is so hard to put up a simple announcement to that effect, no ifs and buts. There is something called grace. This might be a blogged-up world, but it still has place for grace.
Second: the way so many of us bloggers leaped in to slash at Rohan, calling him names, ready to see every new development in the worst possible light, dreaming up ever more convoluted theories (a criminal gang that uses a blog as its human face?), ratcheting up our ire on each others' ire. I know now, though I wish I didn't, the true meaning of that term they use about sharks: "feeding frenzy." I took part and I am ashamed.
Third: the willingness to assume the worst about the other guy. No, Rohan's explanations are no good because we have already decided that he's a jerk and even his explanations must be twisted to fit that decision. (This is the general tone of the email discussion we've had). No, says Rohan, what these guys did was "branding" and it was "very unethical"; he won't allow (so far) that people felt legitimately aggrieved by what he had been doing.
Fourth: bloggers have a lot to be proud of, and the medium is a hugely powerful one. With that power, though, must come responsibility. The immediacy and connectivity can expose great wrong; in just the same way, it can do great wrong. If Rohan Pinto is guilty of no more than mistakenly posting stuff without attribution, I hope we bloggers will understand just how great the harm was that we've done to him. I hope we will understand, not hide behind self-righteousness.
Fifth: for all the triumphs of the blog world -- Rathergate being the prime example -- the thing to remember is that those triumphs came about by marrying the power of blogging to old-fashioned journalism. You don't become an investigative journalist simply because you can get on the Web. Even in the age of the blog, investigative journalism is about more than typing in search strings to Google, more than clicking on a trail of links and posting your "findings" on your blog. It still makes use of those not-so-antiquated tools: phones, people, legwork, talking, asking. In our frenzy, I think we bloggers forgot that much.
Sixth: there is a world out there beyond our screens, Google and the mouse. Just because some of us spend 24 hours a day in front of our monitors, it doesn't follow that the rest of humanity -- even other techies -- do the same. There are indeed people out there who have lives apart from the Web and who, believe it or not, may skip checking their email for more than 24 hours. Even a week. There are indeed people out there who may not know as much about the law, or ethics, as we think we do.
Finally, there is a value to introspection. There is no harm or shame in it. Let me say this: I've not seen great evidence of it among us bloggers.
Postscript: the parenthetical phrase above, "a criminal gang that uses a a blog as its human face", was from a private email exchange that I should never have made public. My apologies to the person concerned.