Flame off!

A rather major discussion has been raging on a very small area of the Internet lately (I won’t get into the details, as they’re not important for the subject of this post), involving people from a variety of perspectives and positions, and although I doubt this is a shocking revelation, it didn’t take long for the discussion to devolve into a morass of name-calling and vitriol. As you know, such interactions always follow the same pattern:

1. Person makes seemingly innocuous post with some intriguing and thoughtful elements.

2. Several people disagree with initial post, using intriguing and thoughtful comments in their reply.

3. Other people come to initial poster’s defense, attacking the humanity of those who dared disagree with him/her.

4. Still other people fire back at the defenders, calling them “fanbois,” “apologists” and the ever helpful “wanna-bes.” Shock and awe ensues.

5. Poster returns expressing sadness, disbelief, and a bit of anger, claiming to be above the fray and calling for calm.

6. Original disagreeing people refuse to heed the call and escalate the conflict. At some point, the term “fascist” is used in some absurdly non-germane way.

7. The comment thread collapses in on itself in an implosion of Black Hole-like proportions. Various other comment threads, formed from the debris, float in closer and farther proximities to the original thread, which is now a barren wasteland of cosmic loathing.

8. Everyone retreats to their own corners of the Web, licking their wounds and plotting revenge.

9. A week passes.

10. Repeat.

What makes this slightly facetious list particularly problematic to me is that the Internet is very, very bad at conveying subtlety. (I love emoticons as much as the next person, but 🙂 isn’t exactly a form of linguistic precision.) People know this, and yet still are drawn into hopelessly over-emotional and defensive arguments…repeatedly. It’s especially perplexing when authors are involved: our job is to express what we mean, and adjust our methods of expression when they are failing, but get writers on a thread like the one mentioned above and they’ll run through steps 1-10 just like everybody else. All of which leads me to conclude that a greater focus on the art of communication is no protection against the emotional pull of “must win…must win…MUST WIN!”

So a gentle suggestion: the next time you find yourself out in the wild world of the Internet, if you feel yourself being dragged in, take the following steps:

1. Take a deep breath.

2. Shut down your computer.

3. Punch a pillow.

4. Feel better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell someone the definition of “fanboi.”