When someone gets hurt in a game or a sports match and things need to stay in motion the general advice is “to walk it off”. There seems to be wisdom in keeping your muscles moving and in keeping your metabolism churning on at high speed. It also seems to be a good idea to distract yourself from the pain by concentrating on keeping moving away from where it happened.
I do the same when I encounter something on the internet that irks me and I feel I should comment on. Except for walking it off, I write it off — literally. I don’t write it off in the metaphorical sense where you stop caring about it and discard it as a lost cause. I write it off in a massive rant. I write an angry post, an article, I collect counter arguments and punch holes in the arguments that annoyed me. And I do it in a folder in my documents called “rants”, which — in its natural format — never gets published.
I found this to be a powerful way to keep myself more objective. A lot of times, these rants are the petri dish for the wisdom used a more thought-out and balanced post or article.
Why not just publish these thoughts? At least they are honest and real. At best they can destroy the original article and point out its glaring inconsistencies and mistakes.
Well, the reason is time and my desire to be constructive. Your time and my time. It is not worth our while to shout at one another online. And I prefer spending my time creating rather than excusing myself or fighting trolls.
The web as it is these days isn’t struggling for content. It’s struggling for great content.
It needs genuine supportive content. It needs unbiased and well-researched posts. It needs less pithy back and forth between experts covering a hidden agenda. It needs more experts trying to co-operate to find real solutions to issues. It needs less people who think just because you don’t say things in each other’s faces it is OK to attack. Or to be condescending, drop off lots of snide remarks or be overly dismissive.
Human interaction is 80% about human senses. Tone of voice, body language, surroundings, facial expressions. All this doesn’t exist in written communication.
This leads to lots and lots of misunderstandings. Irony, sarcasm, humour, every time we say one thing but mean another don’t work in writing. They can if you have the context — you don’t read The Onion for scientific research — but we rarely get that. Often I get accused of attacking someone when I didn’t. This gets worse the more followers you have. When I criticise someone people lash out towards me as someone with that many readers should know better. Harsh truths or obvious flaws can sound like personal criticism when not delivered in person. Kind of ironic, when you think of it. By giving up the real personal parts of our communication we can appear as attacking a person and not their words.
Misunderstandings get worse when speed of delivery is an issue. Twitter is a dangerous playground for communication. Intelligent, respectful and fact-based arguments are rare on it. Instead it is a fertile ground for needling one another. For pushing buttons. For blowing every little thing out of proportion. All for the sake of “winning”, cheaps laugh and the ever-so-important retweets and favourites. A worse fake currency than the tokens you can win in arcades.
Online communication has turned from a gift to publication to a cesspit of personal attacks and grandstanding.
Coordinated attack networks of sockpuppet accounts that keep things boiling “for the lulz” are not uncommon. This, to me, is the real first-world problem.
We have a wonderful tool with the web. A chance to talk, to laugh, to help, to learn and to share. And what we do with it is fight, demean, attack and publish without thought. We think we can always excuse ourselves when we caused grieve. What we forget though, is that a lot of people we hurt are also too scared to even ask for an excuse. Speaking up for them would make them a target for the terrible people of the web. Those who use anonymity and technical knowledge to scare others and appear as omnipotent and powerful.
When I first encountered the web I was spell-bound. A way to send messages back and forth world-wide without waiting for letters to arrive. No need to check my watch as I paid by the minute on my phone. I knew I would spend my knowledge, passion and energy to keep this thing going. It shrunk the planet, it removed borders and it allowed me to learn about foreign cultures from my desk. It is a gift that could solve many issues we have. But it needs us to cherish it and care for it.
And that’s why I am my own censor. That’s why I am editing my work. That’s why I stopped getting all wound up and write things I will regret later because someone was wrong on the internet.
I enjoy being passionate about things. I don’t want to lose that passion. It is cathartic to write things down. Remember, people used diaries for that. A lot of people with psychological problems or relationship issues get the advice from doctors to keep one.
That’s why I write things off. It helps me to be a better web-publisher. It helps me predict the gravest misunderstandings. It helps me sound more like a voice of reason than a heated debater. And it helps me find better points and clearer thoughts once the poison of the first thing that comes to my head is out of it.
Maybe it can do the same for you. It doesn’t have to. I would like to see less ranting, shouting and bickering. I would love to see more contemplation and intelligent analysis online. It won’t give you quick fame and a rush of clicks. But it will make you waste less time arguing with people who live to argue and stir up controversy on the web.
And it will help you make more friends and admirers and less enemies. And, above all, it prevents you from hurting people without wanting to.