Sunday Musing

The  last post was about a specific incident that happened with a specific friend of mine. As usual, I didn’t mention names because I’d rather keep even the rants about the overall scene rather than about a person or group of people. In the comments section, Indy raised the following question about the benefits and pitfalls of openness on the Internet:

I still have to wonder if it’s possible to have the good of the internet without the bad.

Let’s talk about that.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find a lot of the drama in the scene unnecessary. I think it sucks the life out of the scene by creating an obstacle course for people who are there because they simply want to enjoy it. Before they know it, they are either being forced to choose sides or wake up to find themselves the recipient of bad tidings. Sometimes a person wakes up and finds that they are an active participant in drama, perhaps having said or done something at the spur of the moment and then having “buyers remorse” afterwards but with no easy way to extricate themselves. Maybe there was a good intention in an act that then went horribly awry. The person didn’t mean to cause a problem but didn’t think the act all the way through before going ahead with it. This is one of the big issues with the Internet, communication that is there for all time but often with no way of pulling back on it if we’ve made a mistake. How many times have all of us said something in a chatroom or on a message board or in an email and then thought, “Oh, shit. Why did I write that?”

And that’s part of the point that I think Indy touches upon and that I write about here. Many times there is no hidden agent, no overarching conspiracy behind an act that might end up hurting us. It is a simple moment of neglect on the part of the actor. It might be an un-thought or bit of faulty logic that in passion is allowed to go through with the press of a “send” button. My belief is that at times like this, there is a great potential for smoothing over the trouble before it balloons into a larger issue — the drama that I speak of. However, as human beings our initial stance is often to be aggrieved on one side and say, “How dare this person say this? I’ll kill ’em!”, and on the other side say, “Well, I’m not going to lose face so in for a penny, in for a pound”. Like the original message or incident that started the ball rolling, this becomes yet one more example of people using the heat of their humanity, the passion of a particular moment to supersede their logic or the calm reason that we’re forced to use in structured environments.

For example, look at your workplace. There are numerous times during a day when someone gets under your skin and you’d just love to come back at them in the nastiest way possible. But we all know that in that place, it is often frowned upon and downright detrimental to a career to go off like that. We learn to take a breath and swallow it before coming back with a reasonable response that satisfies our need to put our foot down but leaves the other person room to not feel like they are losing face. The Internet sometimes seems like such a wild frontier (although it hardly ever is) that the normal rules of concrete life are pushed aside for the looser anarchy of a virtual one complete with the false bravado that comes with a feeling of anonymity. We sometimes do the wrong thing because we don’t realize that the rules of our real lives are not suspended because we think of online life as “other”.

Simply stopping to think about what we do, whether it’s on one end or another of “drama”, might help just a bit in making sure what we say is what we mean. If you write something, put it aside for a second and then go through it again. Ask yourself if there’s anything in what you’re writing that’s a personal or ad hominem attack — if so, remove it or reword it to be about a subject and not a person. Even if someone hurts your feelings in one way or another, it is not productive to say, “You are a bad person”, because that immediately puts them on the defensive and closes off avenues of negotiation. Rather, say, “What you said hurt me” or some such remark — make it about the act, not the actor. Leave them room to move and you’ll see that most people are reasonable. It’s a simple technique that negotiators and arbitrators use but I’ve found that it works even with some of the most hard-headed individuals.

That’s not to say that there aren’t people out there who want to hurt someone and won’t be deterred from this path. It’s unfortunate but this does sometimes happen. The best course of action is to not have contact with this person or try to use an intermediary to broker some sort of truce. The people may never see eye-to-eye but the excessiveness of open warfare may be avoided. I like to think that people are not intrinsically bad but simply feel hurt themselves to a degree that clouds their reason.

The Internet is a great thing and something that has enriched the lives of so many people as it has done mine. But it’s a real place with real people in it. Although we like to use the word “virtual” to describe it, it’s merely an extension of our world created by us to close the gap of distance between us all. Let’s not turn it into a bludgeon. All problems have solutions, you just have to have the willingness and desire to find them.

Here now ends my sermon.

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2 Responses to “Sunday Musing”

  1. loretta Says:

    Great post Rad. very poignant. Especially like the idea of putting what we write aside for a moment, this post made so much sense, it should be put out there for more people to read. Its something everyone who uses cyberspace should ponder.
    hugs loretta

    • I don’t want to make it out that I’m some sort of sage or philosopher or some such nonsense. Believe me, I struggle with this myself a lot of the time — it’s tough to hold your tongue and think of the big picture. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve backed off at work and approached what might have been an argument in a more reasoned way because I just thought it out. It’s amazing how easy it is to find a smoother and calmer path when you think before you leap.

      The fact is that I’ve gotten much better at is as I’ve gotten older and wiser (after making a thousand mistakes in life). Life doesn’t have to be gang warfare all of the time or even any of the time. It’s can be tough to swallow your pride and look at the big picture but the rewards are great.

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