On Learning with the Community

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We live now in the Age of Information, and terrabytes of knowledge are available at our fingertips, if we only knew how to process them from its rawest form. This wasn’t always possible.

Abundance of knowledge would have you thinking that it would be a good use of time to pick up and learn something. And so many of us go online to learn new things. We meet people along the way. Some of them would even become our mentors, some our students. More often, they’re both. In fact, this Pandemic forces (life-long) students to participate in online learning.

When we stumble upon a block, it’s only natural to ask around for help. It’s what we have always done. Asking leads to social interactions that are necessary for us to evolve as a person and, in turn, as a community.

Progressive spaces

The year 2020 has radicalized a lot of people. At the very least, progressive thinking has gotten a bit deeper, and the spaces it’s in have grown a bit wider, reaching more individuals who have been trying to make sense of what’s going on.

Newcomers in different fields, whether “progressive” or otherwise, have brought with them a lot of questions that need answers.

There is a catch, though.

The Problem with Info Vampirism

Info vampirism, a term we’ll use for now, means that the one asking for help has no initiative to try and search for answers themself first, before asking around. They prefer to just suck the information out of people.

Many hate “info vampires” because often, their questions are so basic, a browse of the manual or quick online search could have yielded a decent answer, or at least, provided them with starting point.

They are rude because they have “no self-responsibility, and expect to have all the answers handed to them.

Info vampires could be dismissed with a “Go look it up yourself!” or “RTFM!” but is it really the right thing to do?

The Problem with “RTFM!”

RTFM means Read the fucking manual. It’s prevalent in computer programming circles where everybody is expected to have the minimum capacity to be self-taught, i.e., to look up for a possible solution and try it on your own.

However, it’s also present in other fields.

It’s the one-off statement that someone says to an info vampire.

“Hi guys, how do I turn my device off?” Alice asked in a forum about her smartphone.

“RTFM, it’s easily seen on page 2!” Bob replied.

In our example exchange, Bob gets mad because Alice didn’t even bother to check the first few pages of (a/the) documentation.

Saying RTFM, though, is counter-productive and potentially elitist. It sounds unwelcoming to newcomers who are still fiddling their way through a new concept or stuff. Besides…

RTFM is only better when you have more time in front. —Igor Chubin

If you already know enough about something, and newbies come asking the most basic questions, it’s important to ask them back about:

  1. Which part/s they do not understand; and
  2. What step/s they already tried to understand it a little better.

Needless to say, this is to know where they are in their current understanding.

It’s worth noting now that access to information, while now considered to be a human right, isn’t still available to many people. Bob might think that turning off a smartphone is easy, but Alice, who just had her first phone ever, let alone a “smart” one, thinks otherwise.

Patience is a virtue

(heavily inspired by Social Rules of the Tech Learning Collective)

In order to start helping others, learn new things and skills, and have fun doing it all, it would be good to adopt some social rules. These rules can help us remove cultural obstacles to learning and working together in a self-directed way; they make explicit what is normally a set of implicit social norms.

Be supportive

You shouldn’t act surprised when someone else doesn’t know something, whether it be technical or non-technical. This is especially true if you’re explaing a belief (or beliefs) that are considered by many to be “fringe.” (“What? You don’t know why Capitalism is bad?” Or “I can’t believe you still believe in the President!”)

It’s best to avoid acronyms, initialisms, and other kinds of jargon whenever you can, as they are, most of the time, manifestations of gatekeeping.

Some of us have opted out of social media, so we’re definitely missing out a lot.

Everyone has gaps in our knowledge. We can’t literally know everything, and that’s fine.

Use this as an opportunity to support one another, or develop our skills and expand our horizons, instead of tearing one another down by exaggerating other people’s ignorance.

Be proportional; no well-actually’s

A well-actually happens when someone says something that’s almost but not entirely correct, and you say, “well, actually…” and then give a minor correction. The keyword here is “minor.” It’s okay to join a conversation mid-way through to offer your own view or correct a fundamental misunderstanding— we’re here to learn and grow, after all— but these sorts of interjections are especially annoying when the correction has no real bearing on the conversation. A well-actually is always about grandstanding, not knowledge-seeking.

Be engaged

This just means that if you’re going to engage in a conversation, commit to actually having it. Don’t just lob advice into the chat and then disappear. Better yet, wait until you have enough time to spend helping someone else work through their issue. In other words, fully engage, rather than butting in sporadically.

Radical spaces can and do breed radical thinking. However, being radical does not mean doing something bad. Usually. You see, things can get pretty blurry once we step back and take a good look at the big picture. But for simplicity’s sake, no requests for illegal activity.

If you’re a newcomer who asks about doing illegal things, people will be suspicious of you real quick.

We all need to be careful. Read about the basics of Operational Security Don’t make it easy for the State’s agents to entrap you.

Within reason, assume good faith; no badjacketing

We are here to support one another in learning, organizing, and revolutionizing both our material circumstances and social culture. This means that we must nurture trust in our relationships, grow to love one another as neighbors, friends, and comrades, and offer solidarity to one another’s political struggles because we recognize that liberation and freedom will not come to any one of us if it does not come to all of us. To do that, we must resist paranoia, remain skeptical of baseless accusations against our own, and counter attempts to consolidate social capital by sewing distrust.

Badjacketing (or snitchjacketing, bad-rapping) means to create suspicion, by spreading rumors or unsubstantiated accusations, that people are undercovers, infiltrators, snitches, or cooperators. Sometimes it’s done out of fear and paranoia. But normally, those who “lay jackets” on others want to consolidate their control over a movement and feel threatened in their authority.

In short, please do not do the State’s work for them.