Netiquette: Tips For The Socially Challenged
This article has been a long time coming. As a professional writer, I spend a lot of time online. I’m a sex columnist and novelist, which means not a day goes by that I don’t have to talk with an editor or two about various things. The communication style I use depends on my relationship with the particular editor (I have several).
But, in each case, I have to pay attention to what I write. I cannot simply write whatever the hell I want and expect it to fly through the ether exactly as I intended it. Electronic mediums don’t afford the same luxury as face-to-face communication, because facial expressions and tone inflections are entirely absent. All the same, this is no excuse for not being able to communicate well; the English language is certainly adequate for expressing oneself with precision. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, toss in the phenomena of social netting in various internet playgrounds like MySpace and the like, and things get more complicated.
You see, Americans (and others) went through a fairly large gap in time, when the written word was pretty much forgotten. It started with television and reached the summit when the telephone monopoly ended. People were no longer writing letters to each other – they didn’t need to. And that’s when it all went pear-shaped; we lost the art of communicating via the written word. The old-fashioned pastime was now reserved for authors, journalists, secretaries and others in similar professions.
And then the internet happened. The written word became a social function again. Any teenager could find anything they wanted on the internet, and they could ramble on til their heart’s content, because no one ever taught them how to conduct themselves via writing. We have middle-aged housewives referring to themselves as MILF’s without even really knowing what they’re saying. And we have little kids talking total shite in forums, just because they can.
There are rules to communication. You don’t run your mouth off anonymously from your bedroom or office just because you can. Have some self-respect. If you don’t respect yourself, why should I? If you wouldn’t talk junk to someone’s face – and believe me, 99.9% of you would not – you shouldn’t be doing it online, either. Now, if you’re just naturally a jerk, that’s your business. I don’t mind jerks, as long as I don’t have to interact with them. Sometimes, however, non-jerks come across as major prats online, due to a lack of social education. The following tips are for those of you who aren’t jerks, and don’t want to give us impression you are.
- Easy on the caps key. This is the online equivalent of screaming. Not only does this immediately put your audience on the defensive, it will make them wary of future communications, as they may assume you “yell” all of your answers. To be fair, most people who do this seem totally unaware of how socially inept it appears, so it’s unlikely they’re trying to annoy anyone. If you’re just trying to put emphasis on a few words, caps is not the best way to do it - use asterisks instead; it's *far* less aggressive in appearance.
- Don’t get mouthy the first day you join a forum. Some people just can’t be quiet. They know everything about everything and have to enlighten us with their cleverness. You know the type – usually still living at home, cos they’re usually teenagers. This kind of behavior is far more tolerable when the guilty party is actually already known by the community. If you join a forum and show off your verbal incontinence from day one, you are going to annoy people. Join the forum – and observe for at least a few days before you start challenging statements you’re utterly ignorant of.
- Don’t harp on a subject to the point people start sighing. Everyone has opinions, some have more than others. We’re each entitled. We are not, however, entitled to prattle on and on to the point others are ready to leave. Once, twice – maybe 3 times, if you can say it concisely – that’s plenty. If you’re repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results, that’s pretty close to Ben Franklin’s definition of insanity. Don’t be a crazy person.
- Don’t brag about yo’ damn self in a forum. I’m not saying you’re not special – on the contrary, you probably meet my exact definition of special – but there really isn’t a need to extol your own virtues in a forum. Wanna share a moment of happiness? Go for it. Want to tell everyone how your moment of happiness is better than someone else’s? Nuh-uh. This makes you look arrogant and mean. If that’s your goal, go on with your bad self.
- You don’t need to answer every single question. If you actually have the answer to every question, what are you doing online? Why aren’t you out there having the time of your life in some really fantastic line of work where your genius can benefit the world? Oh..right. Well, then, if you don’t actually know all the answers, let someone else answer once in awhile. That should free up your schedule long enough to get a life.
- Don’t gang up on people. Nothing ticks me off more than an unfair fight – and I find it especially cowardly when people do it online. You don’t slag people off just because you desperately want to be better than them, or have something they have, or steal the attention they’re getting. Show some character, ffs.
- Worry about yourself. You cannot change someone who does not want to change or be changed. This is particularly true in relation to the internet. What people could possibly hope to gain from nagging others online is beyond me. For every person you find annoying, there are 3 others who find you more so. You can’t possibly live your own life if you’re busy trying to live someone else’s. There are others I could add to this list, but these are the ones I've seen most frequently. If you'd like to add your own suggestions in the comments, feel free to do so.