Social media has introduced the world to open table communication, allowing for people to state opinions, jokes, thoughts without the typical filters, social appropriateness or visual cues of traditional face-to-face communication. It has given us an opportunity to discuss subjects that traditionally would be only discussed with people chosen by the discussion leader. Now our conversations are public.
I began blogging at the turn of the millennia. I found that I enjoyed writing stories, expressing emotions and penning my day-to-day on the vast landscape that was the Internet. I quickly deciphered that what I wrote directly correlated to what I was interested in, how I acted in real life and what I dreamed about. However, without the assistance of body cues, visual expressions, vocal tones or personal knowledge my words were often misunderstood, misinterpreted.
And NO emoticons did not help. They are a poor substitution for actual real life emotions.
At first, I was distraught. I did not want to offend or hurt people because of miscommunication. I wanted them to understand my heart behind my words. So I changed the way I wrote. I stayed politically correct. I stopped trolling Facebook conversations waiting to add my witty banter. I began to write what I thought people wanted to read. Ultimately I began to write CRAP.
Don’t lose who you are for the sake of your digital crowd.
Listen folks. I did not grow up in a perfect-white-picket-fence family. My family was backwoods Irish decedents that had a deep love for family and a deeper disdain for being politically correct. When someone had something to say, they said it—It didn’t matter if it was hurtful, off-color, or just plain wrong. They said it. Then my family would argue until they came to agreement (even if it was to agree to disagree). We didn’t hold grudges, stop talking to each other or let our emotions get in the way of our relationships.
So here’s the thing. The Internet gives us an unfiltered ability to speak our minds, so if you have something to say, say it. People will choose how to take your opinion. In a standard conversation they could just walk away. So why is it that we feel the need to remain in Internet conversations that bother us or offend us? Why do we feel the need to make a public spectacle of our disagreements? If you don’t like it, walk away.
What I am NOT saying.
This is very important. The Internet is not a place to publicly bash, hurt, embarrass or mistreat people. I have been guilty of any/all of the above. My mouth gets me in trouble on a daily basis so it goes without saying that my Internet discussions will do the same. But here’s the thing. Listen closely.
If you know me, you know I care about my friends and family deeply and passionately.
So take my comments with a grain of salt and take the time to talk to me face to face when I hurt you. The Internet is not the place for this conversation. No emoticons will display my guilt, hurt, and sadness at hurting you. Words will be misunderstood, miscategorized and misshaped to whatever the hurtee is feeling.
Don’t use the Internet as your personal podium of hurting others. This is the one thing I love about my family. We’ve had some big fights. I remember when I decided to move away after high school. 2,200 miles away to be exact. This was unacceptable to my family. We got in a knock-down, dragged-out fight that only rednecks could perfect. But we didn’t do it publicly. We didn’t invite over the neighbors, family members, or peanut galleries to come witness our fight. We fought behind closed doors, made up behind closed doors and then loved each other publicly.
Here’s a couple rules I try to live by on the internet. NOTE: I’ve broken every rule at one time or another:
1. Don’t be crude. Crudeness is not humor (I broke this one recently and really regret it).
2. Don’t be a dick. I learned this one long before Wheaton made it law. Oh, and I continue to learn it. Every. Single. Day.
3. Don’t bash people. You can disagree. You can vehemently disagree. But don’t turn it into insult.
4. Don’t forget that those words were written by a person. This is the first thing we forget as an Internet culture. We disconnect the humanity from the digital. Those words are a direct outpouring of a person’s heart, mind, conscience.
5. Don’t lose yourself. While still following the first four rules, don’t lose sight of who you are. If who you are is an annoying political spectator, then fine. Be that. If people don’t like it they can mute, unfollow, or defriend.
6. Speak from the heart. This one is tricky. Our “mind” and our “heart” are two very different things. I am of course speaking symbolically here, so stay with me. Our mind is full of emotions, reactions, and opinions. These are a jumbled mess of icky-ness. Our heart filters these to give us a sense of identity, truth and general purpose. Take time to speak from the heart, instead of the barfing your mind into a blog post. People will see the difference.
7. Learn to say I’m sorry. You’re going to offend someone online. You’re going to post an inappropriate meme, say something that is more stupid than funny, indirectly insult someone. Learn to find that person (preferably face-to-face, if possible) and say you’re sorry.
8. Don’t take Internet Shenanigans personally. This is the Internet. Its words on a screen. In a way, its not real life. It is our made up connections with one another that play out in circles, friend requests, or followers.
9. Stop being so serious. “Don’t take life so seriously, you’ll never make it out alive.” Smile more. Laugh more. Share things that are funny (not crude), inspiring, joyful, happy. I am often surprised at how serious and adamant people get in social threads. You’re looking at little pieces of computer code that translated what someone typed or posted. Learn to develop a digital Rhino skin. Let the stupidity of the Internet roll off you.
10. Go for a walk. Learn to disconnect from the digital realm. If you’re getting super offended, angry, upset at what people are writing on the web, then maybe you need to go for a walk. Go enjoy nature, family, friends, real life.
You Are What You Tweet. Your digital persona is a direct representation of who you are. Choose your friends wisely. Learn to love more, troll less.