[Wikimedia-l] Patience

Michael Snow wikipedia at frontier.com
Wed May 15 06:45:47 UTC 2013

I originally wrote this message last year on a nonpublic list. It seemed 
to be well received, and some people asked me to share it publicly, but 
I didn't get around to it then. I think this would be a good time to 
share it here now. It is not specifically directed at recent issues 
here, but I think it does have some relevance. (I have some thoughts 
more directly related to those matters as well, which I hope to share 
when I have time to write them down. That might not happen until late 
Friday, which is probably not the best time for it, but based on recent 
history perhaps I can still hope some people will be reading then.)

Internet technology is known for letting things happen much faster than 
they did before we were all so connected. This speed now seems normal to 
us and, being immersed in that culture, we have come to expect it. 
Wikis, as one aspect of that culture, have the feature of making that 
speed a personal tool - you can make something happen right away. How 
many of us got involved because we saw a mistake and figuratively 
couldn't wait to fix it? And when we discovered that we literally didn't 
have to wait, we were hooked.

One result of this is a culture that caters to impatience, sometimes 
even rewards it. And that's why we are often tempted to think that being 
irritable is a way of getting things done. We imagine: this problem 
should be instantly solved, my idea can be implemented right away, I 
will be immediately informed about whatever I care about. But as our 
culture grows in scale, none of that remains true (and perhaps, we get 
more irritated as a result).

I wish I could say that because it's a matter of scale, technology will 
take care of things because that's how we handle scaling. However, the 
issue is not about whether the technology will scale, but whether the 
culture will scale. On a cultural level, scaling issues are not handled 
by technology alone. They are handled by establishing shared values (be 
bold, but also wait for consensus), by agreeing upon standard procedures 
(which provide important protections when designed well, but also 
introduce delays), and by dividing up responsibilities (which requires 
that we trust others).

That last bit is critical; people have repeatedly suggested a certain 
mistrust underlies the repeated flareups. Well, the reason that mistrust 
has grown so much is because we are often impatient, and take shortcuts 
in order to "get things done" (or so we believe). The impatience 
manifests on all sides--to illustrate: volunteers get impatient about 
the effort needed for any kind of policy change, chapters get impatient 
about requirements to develop internal controls and share reports on 
their activities, staff get impatient about time involved in consulting 
with the community. Everyone thinks it would be so much better if they 
were free to just do things and not have to deal with these hassles. But 
in every one of these scenarios, and I'm sure I could come up with many 
more, if we let impatience guide us, inevitably more trust will be 
drained out of the system.

Patience as a virtue is in short supply on the internet. It is not 
native to our culture, but we must apply it in order to scale. 
Fortunately, it is simply a matter of maturity and self-control at 
appropriate moments. I encourage us all to practice it.

--Michael Snow

More information about the Wikimedia-l mailing list