I ran into someone a few days ago who prefers the name-calling style of communication. As these things frequently unfold, the name-calling escalated when it could have just as easily have been derailed by a simple apology...or even just by leaving the conversation...rather than an obstinate and seemingly never-ending defense of the behavior.
Eventually, the person wrote the following, which is the inspiration for this essay.
I don't [think] you should be getting so bent out of shape because of words typed up by some random people you don't know. I think you should take a step back and get some perspective if you really have such a hard time dealing with the ramblings of anonymous goobers on the internet.I do not consider the people I meet on the Internet to be "random people I don't know." I call them my friends. That's probably why behavior on the Internet means more to me than him.
I've spent the seventeen years since then participating in, building, and in some cases moderating similar communities of people like the ones I found back in 1992.
Communities of people. Not "random goobers." The words you read on your computer screen when you go to this blog or any other are not random ramblings. They were written by people.
I have traveled the country and visited many of the people I encountered first on the Internet and felt instant recognition when we finally met face-to-face. I've driven from Arkansas to Virginia for Thanksgiving dinner with women from an email list and from Little Rock to Dallas to have a few glasses of wine. I stayed with friends in Seattle when I tried to move there and was looking for a job.
I met someone who lived in Japan and we began a long distance relationship. Our face-to-face meeting was in Hawaii over the Xmas break of 1993-94. Although the relationship did not survive my surgery, I did recover at her house in Indiana. And I grew a lot as a woman from knowing her.
I didn't...and will not...say that everyone I've met on the 'net was or has been my friend. There are my friends and people who have not become my friends yet. That's the stance I adopted when I joined the Internet in 1992 and it is the point of view I have tried to maintain since then.
That's last century type thinking, it seems to me. Our world has grown. It is no longer limited to what we can touch.
Sometimes there have been friendships that were made and then dissolved through misunderstandings by one of us. That happens all too easily in this medium, unfortunately. One of the downsides.
But the interactions are no less real because of it.
You can choose to learn who the people behind the words on the page are if you want to do so. All it takes is the effort to reach out.
I wrote this poem in 1993. I think it still applies.
Bits and Bytes