Etiquette is Paramount

Criticism and Etiquette OnlineBecause of the ease with which miscommunication can occur through digital media, it is so important to express oneself carefully. It is just not nice to offend and belittle anyone, yet on the Internet this happens all the time. With only the context of words to guide the reader, a misinterpreted comment can sting because its intention isn’t clarified by other modes of expression through which we, as human beings, communicate. When we speak from person to person, we also perceive mannerisms, facial expressions, and the rhetoric of conversational partners who may be present. When the eyes are visible, it is much easier to distinguish between sarcasm and frankness. But when one only has mere words to go by, this distinction is much harder.

In chats, for instance, there is always a thin red line that defines the boundaries of etiquette. Anything outside this “safety” perimeter could easily lead to a serious disagreement. There are rules set up in society that have the function of preventing such altercations. You have experienced, just as I have, how unpleasant this can be, yet it happens still. Usually it stems from a lack of respect. One does not even mean to be malign, but it happens so fast. One word can make all the difference, making the written sentence seem offensive or overly cynical. Even when it is not what you meant, some explaining is required of you.

In past years I have met many great friends online with whom I still keep in touch. Through specialized forums I’ve gotten to know many like-minded geeks; common interests are certainly the best way to make new friends. Yet over time I’ve also come across some strange characters who claim immunity behind the anonymous wall of the Internet. Unlike in real life, you are more likely to come across impolite and downright unfriendly behavior online, and you’re quite powerless against it. It can be very unnerving and disappointing.

How often have you read about stories of people being stalked on Facebook? The instances can range from the truly horrific and disturbing to good-naturedly humorous. Even though it was outed as a fabrication (or “social experiment,” depending on your source), the famous Kate’s Birthday Party prank is completely feasible with the right combination of botched privacy settings and some mischievous publicity scattered appropriately to the proper places. Imagine the dupe in such an instance looking out their front window to see thousands of strangers waiting to wish them a happy birthday! This is where the line between the online world and the real world blurs.

Criticism is Good

Very often, I receive some harsh criticism here at LockerGnome. But when a negative comment dwells inside of a constructive context, then I welcome it. No one is all-knowing. I am merely a writer who explores subjects of interest to me, and I always welcome feedback and additional information. If anyone takes the time to find the right words in order to express his or her disagreement, then it means you have succeeded as a writer. The failure of any writer lies not in the falsification of facts, but not being susceptible to feedback and a good critique.

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.” Anton Ego (Ratatouille)

Even if this is a quote from an animated film, its truth is not diminished by that fact. It almost seems to be an irony that Pixar Animations was founded by Steve Jobs. He was, of course, a man whom many admire for his thoughts about finding your own way. Criticism is not merely an obstacle put on our path, but rather an encouragement to continue to stand for something. Knowing when to accept and when to ignore criticism is an art few have mastered. An emotional response seldom leads to a calm resolution of disagreements. Just as the fictional food critic in Ratatouille observes, negative criticism is not really valuable.

Language is an intricate subject, but it is very much a logical subject. First off, one must understand that specific words trigger specific reactions. A good critic knows this, and the one receiving the criticism should handle it accordingly. This returns us to my previous comment that, online, we can only see text. Words alone have the function of expressing opinions and emotions. Very often I see misunderstanding occur simply because of a poor choice of words. Eloquence is indeed a hard-to-come-by attribute, and this is even more true online. It seems that, on the Internet, people forget their manners temporarily. Yet it is easy to forget how words on their own can hurt so very much.

Always Know What Language is Capable Of

If you don’t already, make sure to pay attention to how your way of expressing yourself adapts to what are doing. Certainly you will write differently when you are chatting with someone romantically as opposed to when you are commenting in a forum about Android roots. These are two very different target groups, and two very different mindsets that you need to accommodate. All depends, of course, on your intentions. Every occasion has its own appropriate vocabulary. Lawyers have their particular nomenclatures, just like geeks have their own lexicon.

One thing to remember is that the online world is no exception. Rules on the Internet do not differ from reality. People should still know how to behave. It is that mutual trust that is the foundation of social media. The very core of Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ dwells on the desire to communicate. Too often have I been in Google Hangouts and some stranger comes in just to disturb everyone. Other times I have come across people who barely speak the primary language in use and they still have better manners. Internationality is the nature of the Internet, and this presupposes an openness. The intentions of such trolls always elude me. It is a mystery to me why anyone would invest so much time in simply upsetting others, yet these people exist in abundance on the Internet. The best solution is to ignore them. Just like bullies in school, they will lose interest if no one pays attention to them.

The Internet is an Invisible Wall

The lesson I have learned over the years is that online people are more easily agitated. In a way, it is explicable through psychology. Imagine, if you will, that the Internet is an invisible wall. As soon as we lose control, meaning that we cannot directly control what is happening, we feel uncomfortable. I am not saying that in real life you can go around physically influencing people. You can do that, of course, but society says it is not all right. Well, online people automatically build up a defense. They seek protection for their privacy and dignity. This is why only few people engage in video conversation as opposed to verbal interaction.

During hangouts with my friends, and also new faces, I have sometimes crossed the line with my sarcasm. Yet when the visual input is available, people can immediately adapt and excuse themselves when necessary. This is not the case when you are chatting with words only, of course. It is almost as if you and your chat partner assume new personalities. My fiancee could not help but notice that I express myself more poetically when I am writing. Whenever you do not show your face, some switch in your brain is flipped. To be honest with you, when I write these articles, I use a different language than I would if we would converse in person. Our world is connected, so try to use to your advantage instead of using it to mock others. What the Internet stands for has many implications on us, because it is what me make it.

It is undoubtedly apparent even to me how fun it is write and read negative commentary. Over time I have restrained myself from any negative feedback, though. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” I wish this simple rule would also be heeded online. Oh, well. If all else fails, maybe I’ll just move to Mars someday.