Actually You Do Care

A reasonably common feature in Internet debates is that of one party claiming to not care about the issue. Statements such as “I haven’t got time to debate this” or “I’m not interested” are used to try and disclaim any interest in the topic. Such claims are silly and rather amusing.

Outside the Internet it does make sense to say “I don’t care” because interactions are between small numbers of people. Telling a tele-marketer that you don’t care about their product is part of the process of getting them to stop calling you. But it doesn’t make sense in interactions between large numbers of people.

If there are 100 people on a mailing list then there will be a variety of opinions about any issue, but one thing you can count on is that the majority of people on the list are not interested in whether any individual cares about an issue. If there was a general desire to discover how many people cared about a topic of discussion then the way to determine this would be via an online poll. In almost every situation individuals saying “I don’t care” in email just isn’t a scalable solution. The only exception is when someone in a leadership position is asked for an opinion, in such a case a response is expected and if the leader actually doesn’t care then saying so and letting other methods be used to resolve the dispute makes sense.

One common case where an “I don’t care” message is seen is at the end of a long and heated discussion. After a discussion has gone on for a while (well beyond the point where it was obvious that no-one was going to change their position) one party might claim to not care or not have the time to debate the issue. But of course if they didn’t care at all or had no time then they wouldn’t have written any messages on the topic. If they had a limit to their time or care factor then they would probably have stated their opinion once and maybe written a single follow-up post clarifying the first one. Anyone who has written 6+ messages or a total of 1000+ words on a topic obviously cares and obviously has time. In such cases it seems that claiming to not care or not have time is a final desperate attempt at getting the last post on a topic by someone who subscribes to the “last post wins” school of online debating.

Another common case is when someone makes a point that is decisively refuted. The Internet is filled with people who can’t handle criticism and who can never leave any critical email without a reply. In such a situation claiming to not care is a way that such a person can protect their fragile ego even if the point is indefensible. One of the variations on this theme is to claim to be an expert who doesn’t care enough to educate people on mailing lists (or even provide a couple of URLs that reference what they need to know). As a hint, if you are going to claim to be an expert while making statements that disagree with notable experts in the field in question (professors at prestigious universities, Nobel laureates, or people who have demonstrated great practical success) then you really need to demonstrate your expertise and cite references.

While generally it’s the scope of the Internet that makes the “I don’t care” argument silly, it also doesn’t make sense in interactions via electronic media such as private email where a sender can be ignored. If you don’t care about a private email in reply to one of your messages then what you will do is simply delete it. Replying and saying “I don’t care” merely demonstrates that you do care, invites another reply, and shows that you have a fragile ego to protect. My general practice when dealing with such people is to send one reply to every message that they send me, such people typically demonstrate how much they care by sending me more than a dozen messages explaining in detail how much they don’t care.

Another variation on the theme of private correspondence is people who write blog comments that are obviously inappropriate and will not pass moderation. Someone who polls my blog to see if their comment has been approved and then writes an abusive comment when they discover that they fell well short of my comment quality standards obviously cares about having their comment published. To then claim to not care about whether their comment was approved is obviously a lie.

Google is almost entirely filled with things that I don’t care about. I demonstrate the fact that I don’t care about them by not commenting.

8 comments to Actually You Do Care

  • jason

    I don’t care.

  • jason

    I don’t care what you think about me not caring.

  • etbe

    Jason: Two “I don’t care” messages, wow, you really care about this one!

  • Michael "Sarcasm" Howell

    @etbe: “Jason: Two “I don’t care” messages, wow, you really care about this one!”
    Jason was being sarcastic.
    I don’t care whether you think I’m right or not :).

  • etbe

    Michael: Unless Jason is a friend of yours and you discussed this with him you can’t know that.

    For sarcasm to work the audience needs to know the person well enough to know that they weren’t being serious, which is not possible for a first-name only blog comment. Everything you write on the net gets interpreted in all manner of ways, which is why emoticons were invented. So a blog comment with :-# at the end can be unambiguously interpreted as sarcasm.

    As for writing twice, I once had someone send me two messages to tell me he didn’t care about one of my messages.

  • Michael "Beginning a sentence with and is improper" Howell

    etbe: “For sarcasm to work the audience needs to know the person well enough to know that they weren’t being serious, which is not possible for a first-name only blog comment.”

    No, I don’t know him/her. It simply does not make sense to say “I don’t care” in response to a blog post that says “Don’t say ‘I don’t care’. “, except if you are either being sarcastic, or disagree. In the latter case, its generally considered that you will specify that you disagree and why.

  • etbe

    Michael: Sure it doesn’t make sense to disagree without specifying why, but there is a significant trend toward doing just that. I was obliged to write the above blog post about the FAIL meme in response to all the people replying “FAIL” to a lengthy message or post without explaining why.

    Remember that we are on the Internet, basing your interpretation of someone else’s actions on the idea that any other possibility doesn’t make sense is no guarantee of accuracy.

  • jason

    Yes, I was being sarcastic. I figured most people would understand that given the topic without me adding some ridiculous emoticon.