I feel like my brain is slowly exploding. One, little bit at a time. Every time I log on to the Internet, I am confronted with the announcement of a birth, the news of a pregnancy; the engagement of a couple, the purchasing of a house – a new job, a new opportunity being harnessed. Every day a variety of social networking sites showcase the news and lives of the people I know – whether it be people with whom I have been friends with for a good portion of my life; people that are a part of my family; or just people I know through others. And it is killing my brain cells – slowly, but surely.
To a limited extent, I do this as well. When I got married, I shared the news and photographs with people on my Facebook profile; when I decided to stop graduate studies, I blogged about it and posted this on various social networking locales as well. But by and large, my postings are more of an informational nature – of witty commentary, silly cartoons, or interesting articles. But (as I have discussed before), since everyone has a different reason for using the vast social network available to us viz-a-viz the World Wide Web; we can only accept and understand this diversity of Internet usage and do with it what we can. Thanks to technology, we can filter some of this. If we really cannot deal with any more postings of brides to be about the color of their cocktail napkins, or sequence drama on their dress – (in most cases) we have the options to hide certain postings in an effort to preserve our sanity, whilst preserving our friendships.
But as is the case with everything, there are still limitations on what can be done. In some sense, we must act as our own spam filters, and either ignore or disregard in the interest of keeping the peace. An example of this is in the case of a friend who is so politically charged that every third post he makes on the Internet is one along the lines of a political rant. In person, this person is great to hang out with; minimally confrontational, maximally fun. And Internet contact must remain so that opportunities for maximal fun may continue. Thus, in some sense the political rants must be disregarded in the interest of preserving the friendship and having that online access such things as blocking, limiting, or outright deleting might do. Thus, I have come to the conclusion that (as with all things) an etiquette must be formed.
This is nothing new, though. Bloggers, writers, and online writers have been suggesting etiquettes or rules of engagement since the inception of such social networking giants as Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. Yet, where it seems these streams of suggested etiquettes have failed is in the detachment from etiquette in the real (non-virtual) world. More specifically, by giving such credit to the truly false reality of the social networking “world,” such etiquettes have only further isolated social networking from the in-person world.
Thus the first rule of Internet Etiquette should be on a more personal note, that being: Rule #1 – Do Not Take Things on the Internet So Seriously. Beyond the very fundamental fact that things on the Internet are nothing more than bits and pieces of fragmented information and html code, they also are not truly representative of those that put these things out there. Take, for example, in the case of Facebook: when I post an article on my page that I read on CNN’s website, does this mean that I am a representative of CNN? Or does it mean that I believe either way with regards to the article (say it is on Obama, do I believe in Obama’s policy that is being discussed merely because I post the article?)? Further, on a very basic, logical level – the things on that page, the articles, the status updates, the photos – these are all merely a snapshot of my life; in no way who I am. If someone on my friend’s list were to reach out and touch the screen showing my profile of witty articles and half-sarcastic comments, it would be in no way the same thing as reaching out to touch my hand and have an in-person conversation with me that (despite all it’s attempts) the Internet just cannot provide.
Logically following this, then, is Rule #2 – Assume That Everyone Will Be Taking the Internet Too Seriously. This seems like a paradox, for first we are to not take things we see on the Internet too seriously; yet, at the same time assume that others are. Ultimately, though, in terms of a rule for engagement, this is the most obvious and simple way in which we can avoid the affects of Facebook Drama and Twitter Trauma. By assuming that others will take the things they see posted on your Facebook or Twitter account with the utmost of seriousness, we will necessarily avoid posting things that are too out there in terms of their social acceptability. For example, while I am in no way racist, or bigoted – say I hear a racially charged joke I’d like to post on my page (owing to the utter ridiculousness of my non-racist self posting such a thing). In assuming that others will take this with the utmost seriousness, I will probably avoid posting it for fear that I will offend someone, or cast in incorrect perception of my personal beliefs. In other words, I will avoid conflict altogether. More compelling in this, though, is in the fact that if someone posts something and they take it seriously (be it an article, Internet link, photograph, status update), for me to not treat it with seriousness and respect is to run the risk of jeopardizing an in-person friendship. An example of this is in the case of the pregnancy announcements, the wedding news, and the baby photos. As much as the recent onslaught of these daily postings has exhausted my psyche to the point of feeling as if a little, miniature explosion goes off in my brian every time I see one, the fact that I am a jaded, unprogressive young woman stuck in a rut does not have anything to do with the ways in which someone else in my life may be approaching their own personal progression and happiness. Thus, if a friend announces she is pregnant (or whatever the news or information may be), it is imperative that I offer quick and friendly congratulations – whether she is making this announcement just to make it, or making it in hopes that she too will be overwhelmed, only rather than with news it will be with support.
The only thing left to consider, then, is whether one can survive in the social networking world, and maintain those same “friendships” in real life, despite online interactions. The Internet is defined uniquely for each person that logs on to it – sometimes it is even different for each person each time they log in. For some it is a place to share; for others it is a place to complain. For many it is a place to get information; for others it is a place to give information. The fundamental point to it all, though, is that if one cannot accept and understand this, one should not use the Internet at all. It is wholly narcissistic to take the position that how you use the Internet is how all should use the Internet. Further, it is then obvious that the last rule be relative to how we judge others by their online content: ultimately, we shouldn’t. We spend time with people we enjoy being with, or with whom we hold some sort of common bond. Online we are all different people, though. Especially in the case of bloggers and commentators, it is much easier for words to fly, and unintended consequences to be had, from behind the unfettered solitude of a private computer screen. And while we should be able to represent ourselves in all ways true to our original form, this just isn’t the case when all body language, verbal tone, and visual inflection are lost in cyberspace. So the only remaining Internet Etiquette is, then: Rule #3 – Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover; or (more specifically): Don’t Judge.
From these three etiquettes, social networking peace is guaranteed. The rule of thumb, or the golden rule, is that the Internet is a double edged sword: it gives us access and information beyond all means comprehensible even twenty years ago; but at the same time, it makes us all the more illusory. What we represent online is very rarely who we are.
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