There were two conversations I had today that made me think about this internet culture we have, this means of communicating both among ourselves and within our collective mind, and just how we should act when we are using it. There is apparently a great deal of difference in the attitudes of those participating as to what it is O.K. to post, and where.
First, a facebook friend who is a writer I don’t know in real life, although he posts interesting, intelligent stuff. I don’t always agree with him (although I think we’re certainly close enough in our world viewpoints that we could spend real time time together without resorting to violence), and when I don’t agree, I have been known to leave sarcastic comments. Anyway, he wrote that it was out of line for someone to defriend him just because he’d blocked their comment on his page, which made me feel a bit awkward because I’ve unfriended people for precisely that. If you don’t want to see my comments, then screw you. However, I’m sure he wasn’t talking to me because, to the best of my knowledge, he has never blocked one of my comments.
The second case is someone I know in real life, who feels it is out of line for people to make sarcastic or aggressive comments on facebook and then when they see you in person, they just act like everything’s fine. He’s got a point. Before the internet, the telephone was the scary, depersonalizing technology, but nobody ever says “Oh, that was just over the phone. I’d never say anything like that in real life.”
But, the internet is a bit different. Perhaps because it’s print, there is a less visceral feel to it, so we fell freer to use bad language and make insulting comments. Perhaps it’s because we are so often communicating with people we don’t know. That’s an area where I am nervous about slipping up. When I get into a heated political debate, I have been know to leave such bon mots as “You are the most retarded person on Earth. You must live in your mother’s basement. I hate you,” which is something I would never say to one of my real life friends, but the problem is I don’t always check as thoroughly as I should and sometimes people go by different names.
I see the solution to the problem as twofold. First I, and people like me, need to be a bit more prudent in the kind of things we say, or at least in how we phrase them. Second, everybody needs to grow a bit thicker skin. We are communicating more than ever before. The words are flying like banana cream pies in a silent film comedy. Things will be said. Feelings will be hurt.
And life will go on.