The world has changed a lot in the past ten years, hasn’t it? The biggest influence that many of us feel in these early years of the 21st Century is that of the internet. The internet allows us to connect in ways that have never before been possible, it allows us to voice our opinions on a public platform and to connect with people in places that we might never have the opportunity to visit in the real world. Social media has come along and allowed us to reconnect with long lost friends and family, stay in touch with acquaintances who are, situationally, no longer a part of our lives and to even make new friends. I have been blogging and using social media for a few years and in that time I have made a lot of new friendships, some that have extended into the real world and others that have remained online, either becoming more intimate through private means of discussion, or sticking to public forums, only involved in the aspects of one another’s lives that each of us chooses to post online. For me, both kinds of relationships have been fruitful and emotionally rewarding at times.
There is also that other kind of online relationship. The internet is choc-a-bloc with forums filled with back and forth hate, anger, resentment and provocation. I am in my late 20s and was around when the internet was new and we were all afraid of serial killers finding us and so we posted in any sort of public forum under a pseudonym, now commonly referred to as a username (stupid simplifying language, pseudonym is an awesome word). MySpace wasn’t on the scene yet and most social networking was conducted through forums dedicated to specific topics (like a TV show, or gardening), and through the posts shared and discussed by blogging pioneers. As the years have passed, Facebook has brought social networking to those aged outside the 13-19yrs age bracket, networking sites have popped up to focus on just about any topic you can conceive, Twitter appeared and allows us to send our opinions our into the cyber-ether for whoever cares to follow them and these days, it is often considered odd not to have an online identity. The separation between self and cyber-self has become a smaller gap than existed back in the 1990s, when internet paranoia reigned supreme.
A lot has been written on the topic of online identity, a quick google surf revealed that the many of these articles are directed toward exposing how one’s online identity can effect their career prospects, as well as reporting the tragic results of cyber-bullying. This recent NY Times article offers advice on combating cyber-bullies, an article that focuses on the technical options available. Block/report/ignore/block/check privacy settings/report/ignore… These are all wonderful things to be able to technically do, but it’s not always that easy to stop the emotional effects of the unwanted attention in the first place, is it? Teenagers are the most prolific sufferers of cyber-bullying, although it does effect people of all ages. In regards to what I have seen personally, it is often those who are new to online interaction that are most affected by negative comments, whether this be because they are young or simply haven’t played in the cyber-playground before. Coming to the internet now, without that lovely sense of 90s paranoia, can mean that someone inadvertently makes themselves emotionally vulnerable, simply because they don’t recognise the ramifications that can come of doing this publicly. I like to think of posting online as akin to walking through the streets, proclaiming something through a megaphone – you just don’t know who’s listening.
(click for source)
It’s a mistake to confuse the internet with the schoolyard, even though lots of your old or current school buddies might be milling about here. People in the online world have no responsibility to you or for your feelings and there’s no teacher you can go dobbing to if they upset you. Just like the schoolyard, though, there are going to be people who you will get along fine with, people with the potential to be your best friend and people that you just plain aren’t going to like or aren’t going to like you.
When someone chooses to offer positivity, these online connections are a spectacular thing, however, hang around for a while and you are bound to encounter those who choose to offer negativity and criticism. Most of the time, this is a reflection of what is happening in their own lives, rather than a meaningful comment on your own. A healthy separation of real world self and online self is important when diving into the cyber-pool. This doesn’t mean that you are presenting a ‘fake’ personality, this just means choosing which parts of your life you care to make public and considering how you will feel if someone chooses to react negatively to what you have written or posted. If you only share thoughts that you truly believe in, or truly want feedback on, there is less chance that people will be able to use them to hurt you. Some might try, but their opinion can’t break you if you feel happy in your perspective and also understand that it’s not always your job to try and change theirs. You always have the choice not to respond to a comment or an email, not to follow someone’s blog, or not to be their Facebook friend. This is the way in which you can continue shaping your cyber-world to your personal tastes.
I take everything that I read on the internet with a grain of salt, until evidenced otherwise, including the people that I meet. If somebody that I have interacted with online suddenly displays behaviour that I find distasteful, I can be somewhat disappointed, but I choose to move on and continue to focus on the relationships that I am enjoying. I find it can be beneficial to confront the person who I disagree with, but not to continue arguing if it becomes clear that we simply have opposing views. By discussing an issue openly, rather than getting upset and passive aggressive, I have come to understand and get to know people with whom I have gotten off on the wrong foot. Surprisingly, to me, some of these relationships have actually blossomed beautifully and I have to believe this is because we have established an open dialogue from the beginning. It has not always been easy to not take things personally, but the more I practise it, the better I get. I love that the world is full of diverse opinions and one of the benefits of expressing mine on a blog is that I often get to hear really different points of view. I don’t believe that there is anything more enlightening than a new perspective, even if it simply reaffirms that I truly do believe something that I already thought I believed. Self discovery is a wonderful thing.
There are a lot of how-to lists floating around on the subject of using social media. Personally, I think it all boils down to two things: conducting yourself with integrity and always understanding that there are going to be points of view that you disagree with. I think there is an opportunity for learning any time I find myself reading something aggressively directed toward me or that I simply don’t agree with. Why does it upset me? Because they have attacked me. No, really, why? The truth can hurt, usually if somebody upsets me, it’s because they have triggered somewhere in myself where I feel insufficient in some way. For example, I was an overweight teenager (I’m still not Miss Thinny-Thin-Thin, but it no longer bothers me), as a result, the most offending thing anyone could call me was ‘fat’. Back then I thought differently, but I can see now that this upset wasn’t because it was of no right of theirs to comment on my weight (even if it wasn’t), the hurt was felt because I really didn’t want to be overweight, I just hadn’t quite mentally gotten to a place where I could figure out how to not be that yet.
The best way to avoid getting hurt by people on the internet is to remember that you are on the internet. Even within the privacy of a private account somewhere, you are on the internet. There are a lot of amazing people expressing thoughts on here, there are a lot of opportunities for friendship, learning and growth, but there are also a few shadows to watch out for and opinionated cyber-lurkers dwelling there, who believe that criticising others will ease their own suffering in some way. Sure, I believe it’s twisted to think that hurting other people will make one superior, or more knowledgeable, or stronger, or happier, but unfortunately not everyone is aware of their ability to see things from a different perspective to their own. For some, their own perspective is all they care to know and if you find that their perspective isn’t helpful to your own existence, ignore them and move on, but try not to cry yourself to sleep, on account of this is the internet. Alternative perspectives might offer something new to you, something you hadn’t seen before, other times it might even be a snapshot into how you have personally viewed things in the past, or they might offer you nothing at all, but they are never more than simply someone else’s opinion and you never have to allow them to anger you. I repeat: If you only share thoughts that you truly believe in, or truly want feedback on, there is less chance that people will be able to use them to hurt you.
And now I shall leave you, Audy, to ponder the wisdom of Jack Handey, in relation to what I have been writing about:
them “impressions,” and if you got a different “impression,” so what, can’t we all be brothers?”
“I bet when the Neanderthal kids would make a snowman, someone would always end up saying, “Don’t forget the thick, heavy brows.” Then they would all get embarrassed because they remembered they had the big hunky brows too, and they’d get mad and eat the snowman.”
“If you’re robbing a bank and you’re pants fall down, I think it’s okay to laugh and to let the hostages laugh too, because, come on, life is funny.”
Love & Musings,
P.S. Just for fun and the love of Jack Handey, one more: ‘The wise man can pick up a grain of sand and envision a whole universe. But the stupid man will just lay down on some seaweed and roll around until he’s completely draped in it. Then he’ll standup and go, “Hey, I’m Vine Man.””