I’ve been online almost all of my life. I think we first got the internet when I was 16? And the internet has been my home ever since. As an introvert who works too much and socializes too little the internet has long been one of my fallback forms of socialization.
Over the years I’ve grown wiser.
I was there when MySpace was the ‘IT’ place to be, I was there when Facebook arrived, I was there when Twitter flitted into being. I’ve watched as people have struggled to find their place.
I seem to remember the internet being a far friendlier place, a far more open place but it’s not like that anymore.
Scammers wait at every turn, people lose jobs because of ill thought tweets, people lose friendships because of a simple meme on their Facebook. Every day, in every way, the internet is making people miserable…
But it’s not the internets fault, it’s our fault for using it improperly.
You DO have friends online, but the written word is a funny thing. We all aren’t skilled at reading between the lines, nor are we all skilled at writing between the lines. Some people are really awkward with written word, some just aren’t very good at reading. We’ve become ‘skimmers’, we only see what we want to see or conversely what we’re afraid we’ll see.
Somebody posts: I like cake.
Somebody responds: That’s why you’re fat.
The response is meant to be a joke, but it’s not. And next thing you know poster and responder are no longer friends. Not offline and not on.
Somebody posts a picture of the Republican Candidate saying something or other vaguely controversial, someone else responds with arguments as to why the Republicans are wrong. A debate ensues, another friendship ruined.
Some dumb teenager posts dumb stuff on Twitter and years later she has to drop out of her political campaign because people find those tweets and now she’s the villain.
I’ve learned, the hard way, that we can’t treat the internet like a face to face conversation. Too much is missing. Body language, effective communication skills, in some cases; maturity. We also tend to fall into this problem of seeing ourselves differently than others see us. We think people should KNOW we’re joking, but they don’t, because they don’t see us as we see ourselves.
I am a controversial person. I have opinions that are not in line with popular thought. I have ‘uncool’ opinions. I don’t deliberately try to be counter cultural, but I am.
I’ve learned that I cannot voice my opinions online. I can’t share certain aspects of who I am or what I believe online because it inevitably offends someone, somewhere and honestly I value people more than I value my right to express myself.
I save the deep conversations, the debates, the intellectual run arounds for offline conversation only. Offline I can look in someone’s eyes and see if I’m hurting them, I can see in their body language that they’re uncomfortable, I can know where the line is so that I don’t cross it. I can’t do any of this online.
So what is the internet for, if not for the exchange of opinions and ideas?
Think of the internet as a letter to a random penpal. You don’t know them well enough to discuss your thoughts on politics or religion. Instead you talk about your new dog, you talk about the beauty of your corner of the world, you talk about TV shows, you talk about books, you talk about anything but the really deep issues.
That’s what the internet is for.
Light hearted entertainment.
The internet isn’t the place to air your deepest thoughts. It’s not the place to share your controversial opinions (doing so can hurt your future, it can even lose you your job). It’s not the place for debates.
Once you realize this, once you come to terms with this, you’ll be much happier in online land. 🙂
PS: And if you really MUST use this as an outlet for your secrets, your opinions, your controversial truth, at least only do that in private discussions among those whom you truly trust. Those sort of things aren’t for Twitter or even locked Facebook posts (because as we all know, even those aren’t TRULY hidden).