|This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.
- Originally posted to the internal-l mailing list in March 2012
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.