I really intended to write this post last week, but I thought I’d respond to Mark Dykeman’s question for the day from the second of this month. Mark asks an integral question there about how the web modulates our responses to things; I think it’s a point not enough people pay attention to.
We can all identify with the idea of carriage wits – the jokes you come up with as comebacks far too long after the event to have been biting. Now that so much of the population is blogging, or tweeting, MySpacing and so on, the outlet for carriage wit is very broad, and that’s changing how we approach a lot of our comebacks. We all used to make fun of the lisp-addled geek who swore to get revenge by eviscerating us on his blog, but now the age of the blog has arrived, and the lisp-addled geek is all of us.
What this means is that we all need to be much more conscious of our digital body language. Much more than guarding our privacy (because anonymity is futile) we need to guard our manners. The perception of possible influence created by online friendships goes to our advantage in keeping the people we want to keep up with caught up – but it also makes us easy targets for the disgruntled. How does this affect courage? Simply put; in an arena where everyone’s bullhorn is the same volume, it’s easy to feel justified taking advantage of that equality.
But equality only works if it’s evenly distributed. We forget sometimes the effect our carriage wit will have. Perfect example; if I post a picture of myself drunk in college on Facebook, then apply for a job, I’m asking to be found. If you put the picture up and tag me in it – and I look for a job, You are asking for Me to be found. That’s pretty inconsiderate. Thankfully, Facebook allows people to remove tags of themselves in images, but that’s not the point. Your actions – the pictures you post, the words you write, the blog you rant on – all impact me more than they do you.
Negative blog posts have a negative effect on traffic. No one wants to read complaints. The trouble being, if you’re just bitching, you’re hurting yourself. If you bitch about me, especially if you happen to be full of link juice already, the people looking for me will get your kvetch, and many of them won’t be internet savvy enough to understand the value of negative revues.
But back to the question. Mark asked if it’s easier to be “controversial, confrontational, or brave on the Web” as opposed to in person. The phrasing of this question is difficult to answer. Yes, being controversial i very easy. Anyone with any level of genre savvy can spend thirty minutes bombing anyone else using anonymized accounts, create fake grass roots movements and so on. This kind of controversial and/or confrontational behaviour falls really simply under the category of “antgonistic”. But is it brave?
That’s the key.
Bravery has nothing to do with how willing you are to yell about something. Anyone can yell and eventually get results. Loud minorities already have a voice just about everywhere. Bravery, as I see it, has more to do with stick-to-it-iveness, as it were, the gumption to keep working as you’re working and learn from your actions, without letting one of these antagonistic people get at you. Create and maintain relationships, do your own work, and accept that someone will eventually whine about what, or how, you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing.
Bravery has more to do with perseverance. It’s the intellectual response to emotional action. The web has made this task geometrically more difficult, at the same pace as it’s made antagonism geometrically more simple.