I'd like to get better at arguing on the internet.
The title of this post presumes four things that may not be true:
- That we can agree on what "better" means
- That we would be "better" if we could be "better"
- That my take on "better" is relevant or accurate in any way
- That arguing on social media is ever a worthwhile task
If you're the kind of person who virulently hates presumptions and starts every argument by questioning them, you've probably already checked out. Even if you're still reading.
In fact, I'm sure I lost a lot of people when they read the title.
And that's okay.
Because this isn't for everyone, this bit of writing.
It's partly for me, because writing is how I process the world around me. It's partly for people who like to read how others process the world around them (I'm one of those people.) And finally, it's for people who hear the word "better" and want that, even if they're not sure what it actually entails.
The internet is a lot like Thanksgiving dinner.
If you have too much of it, you're going to feel gross for days.
If you're not eating with people you enjoy, it's not fun at all.
If you have dietary intolerances, half of it is toxic to you.
If you get some part of it all by itself, like cranberry sauce, it won't make a whole lot of sense out of context.
And if you came for an argument, you'll sure as heck find it.
We all show up to this amorphous place with our own brains, backgrounds, beliefs, biases, scars, and agendas in full color. Some of us want to learn. Some of us want to teach. Some of us are looking for something in particular, even if we don't know it. Some of us want to burn it all down. Some of us haven't given it much thought at all, actually. We're just here for the ride... until we hit a bump.
You've heard this before: we're not paying for it, so we're the product. But what kind of product are we? Are we 72 rolls of toilet paper on a pallet at Costco? Are we an off-brand can of soup at the dollar store? Are we a Cartier bracelet? Are we a giant house on a hill?
No two people will approach all of this in the same way, or receive all of the same things, as much as we might try to homogenize our experience. That's why we end up questioning what everyone else is up to. Why would they post that? Why would they say that? Where did they hear that? Why are they reacting this way? Why am I reacting this way?
The answers can be shaky at best, and that's where cognitive dissonance comes in. We spend so much time being confused that we can't help but confuse things further, and then who we are, what we want, and what we really mean gets caught in the crossfire.
That's why I wanted to think of ways I could be a better arguer on the internet.
I know myself: I have feelings about things. They are strong. I'm going to engage other people with strong feelings. Sometimes it's terrible, and sometimes it's exhilarating. But if it was more of the latter than the former... why wouldn't I want that? I could try to stop it altogether, and that would be very zen.
But I lost the little rake for my rock garden, so it's on.
Meg, how about you only comment on things you've actually read and processed? Crazy, I know. I'm sure I know what the whole article or video is talking about because I read the title. Or because I know the person who created it or posted it. Or because I know what that organization does. Or because I was pissed off at something that sounded similar last week. Or because another one of the commenters has said something I disagree with, so I'll go for them before I read a single word.
But hang on, girl.
Read it. Then talk about it. Or conversely, decide it's not worth my time, and keep it moving without leaving my two cents. That's a heck of an option, too.
Meg, how about you listen to the answer to the question you just asked? I might not like it, it's true. I might not understand it. I might have to follow up with another question. And the answer might just be another question I have to answer. But if I take it in, really take it in, listening before I respond turns the moment into a conversation, not a monologue. If I genuinely don't care about the answer, or I'm just being provocative because Wednesday, it may be time for a home karaoke machine. Then I can really get into the sound of my own voice.
Meg, how about you think before you share/react/respond/freak right out? A little Googling, clicking around, and considering the source can save me a lot of angst, let alone looking like a gullible goober. Part of this is also considering myself as a source: what is my blind spot? Who am I listening to? Who am I not listening to? Is this really worth putting out into the world, or taking into my heart? Am I a provocateur or just... kind of a prick?
Every single year, I see a news story about someone who has burned down their home trying to kill a spider. This is the best metaphor for how I argue on the internet sometimes, because killing it with fire seems like the only option. Try a newspaper or a shoe first.
Meg, how about you take a good hard look at the language you're using? And I don't mean increasing the font size. What are my pet phrases? What are my pet memes? What are the loaded terms I use because I know exactly how pissed off someone will get? What does that word I keep using actually mean?
Our patterns and choices telegraph a lot about us before we've even said much, and while that can be deeply intentional, sometimes we don't realize what we're putting out there. If you've ever started a conversation with your fly down, you get what I'm saying.
Meg, how about you try for consistency? Not perfection. Not sainthood. Not profound wisdom. Just being the same person I am... everywhere. If I wouldn't smack you in the face three words into a conversation if we were in the same room, I don't need to do it online. If I wouldn't plug my ears and go LA LA LA LA when you spoke to me offline, why am I doing that on Facebook? And if I wouldn't give you the time of day in person, why am I wasting my precious time on you on a screen?
There are people, of course, who walk up to folks in public and start screaming obscenities at them before anything else can happen. They are professional wrestlers and rap battlers and Eagles fans. If I'm not any of these things, it's worth taking a moment to consider my desire to do it online.
It's just how the internet is, Meg.
I'm just having fun, Meg.
It's none of your business, Meg.
Who died and made you queen, Meg?
Why are you so sensitive, Meg?
If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen, Meg.
Everyone needs an outlet, Meg.
Life is messy, Meg.
Sure. You do you.
But if even 1% of the arguments I've had in my lifetime could have just been conversations?
I might have learned more along the way.