Think It Over Before You Hit ‘Send’
Things I’ve learned while talking to people on the Internet:
* It’s easy. You can say anything you want. You can be spontaneous, honest and impulsive. Just type your thoughts and hit “send.” Done.
* It’s hard. Yes, you can say anything you want and be spontaneous as all heck. You can regurgitate your unedited thoughts into the ether, where chances are you will look like a shallow cretin, a socially inept misfit or a troll.
* Be yourself. Be authentic. The temptation to show the world a shinier persona is great, but you will end up revealing yourself eventually.
One small example: In real life, I cannot tell a joke.
I am not funny. When I try, I end up laughing at the joke myself (so not cool) or watching it fall to the ground with a painful thud. The same thing happens when I try to be funny online.
That doesn’t mean I’m devoid of a sense of humor. But it works better if I laugh at other people’s jokes or at myself. “LOL” and “LMAO” and “ROTFL” and even “ROTFLMAO” come in very handy on Facebook, Twitter and in texts.
* I know from personal experience that sarcasm does not translate well in cyberspace. Neither does irony. Oh, sure, you can include little smilies and winkie emoticons with your post that scream “DON’T TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY!” but then where is the subtlety? Oh, right. The Internet does not do subtle. Remember that.
* Anger is easy online. Outrage is ubiquitous. I notice a lot of people find it fun and somewhat satisfying to be part of the outrage meme of the day. But after a while you have to wonder: What are all these angry and outraged people actually doing to make things right? Does it make them feel better? Is it a form of therapy to pile on and share your outrage with thousands of strangers? When does “outrage fatigue” set in? I think I may already have it.
* It is possible to have stimulating and in-depth discussions on the Internet. Possible, but extremely difficult.
Think about it. It’s hard enough when you’re having a deep or contentious conversation with someone in person. But at least you’re guided by certain expectations of civil behavior (unless you’re shouting down an opponent on cable news). You try not to yell. You avoid calling each other names. You moderate your tone of voice and your facial expressions, otherwise the person you’re talking to will think you’re a complete a-hole.
On the Internet, people seem to forget about the rules. Or they don’t care. Social guidelines are often ignored.
Say you disagree with a person online. It’s easy to bleat out your opinions without really thinking about how it “sounds.” You tell yourself you’re being “honest” when the reality is you’re being lazy, and that’s how a discussion becomes an argument becomes a fight. It takes a little more effort and thought to lay out an opinion with humor and tact than it is to be thoughtless, nasty or reactive. I’ve learned to always think twice before I hit send – and quite often I hit delete instead.
* Don’t even think about trying to hold substantive discussions on Twitter. I mean, come on. Can you really do it in 140 characters or less?
* Finally, know when to disengage. Leave the conversation. Block. Unfriend. Don’t feel guilty about it. Would you choose to hang around unpleasant people? Of course not. You do not need another stress factor in your life. The power to choose positivity is yours.