I wrote a five-part series of articles called “Grain of Salt” a few years ago on a website called NerdRepository.com. It used to be a mixed bag of gaming and film news and opinion editorials, but since then it’s made film news its primary focus and the gaming editorials have been removed. I want them to remain published somewhere on the internet, so I’m going to repost them here as blog entries for your reading pleasure. Originally published on October 31, 2011, this is Grain of Salt Volume 4: The Internet IS Serious Business.
Have you ever seen somebody tear into another person on the internet, then when the victim retorts with upset, the attacker uses some sort of condescending remark like “the internet is srs bsns,” or “quit getting mad at people on the internet,” in an attempt to make the victim look bad for taking offense? Have you possibly ever done that yourself to some unwitting net noobie? I have. This is a wake-up call I think we all need in order to grow up and move forward as a collective; a bold admission, if you will, that takes some humility and maturity from all of us, the users of the internet, to accept.
The mindset that the internet is some kind of rule-free playground where the bullies are the untouchable top of the food chain is detrimental to the internet in general, and how people act while using it. The more new users see this kind of activity, the more they’ll think it’s normal, and the worse the problem will get.
I’ve never understood why anybody thinks of the internet on different terms than, say, a phone conversation, or even talking face to face. The internet is modern man’s most utilized form of communication. Much of our social interaction is done on the internet. We conduct business on the internet. We have debates on the internet. It’s used for a myriad of things, but it’s all communication. It’s all words on a screen. But just because the words are read rather than heard (via phone or in person) doesn’t mean they don’t hold weight. Without words, we’d just be another ape, no different from our primate brothers and sisters. Words allow us to express, to understand, to learn. They allow us to emote, to empathize, and to connect. What good are words if one is to pretend that they should be taken with a grain of salt based simply on the medium being used to express those words? What disservice does that attitude do to the importance of communication and language? The internet isn’t just some new toy, it’s a valuable tool that can make or break people based on how they act or how they’re treated. It’s as much a weapon as it is a toy. The only difference is in how it’s used.
Perhaps it’s the anonymity of the internet that gives people this false sense of entitlement, this attitude that makes them think they can do and say whatever they want while nobody should be bothered by it. People have died over disrespectful internet use. As much as I dislike the term, “cyber bullying” has been the cause of death in a number of suicide cases around the world. It’s torn apart reputations and relationships, therein tearing apart people’s lives. When you start thinking about how much our internet interactions can affect life outside of cyberspace, it’s not nearly as funny anymore. It stops becoming a joke when people start dying, or losing jobs, or losing relationships and friendships, all because some jackass behind a screen and keyboard thought he was a clever, sharp wit. In reality the “cyber bully” is just a tool with a superiority complex who needs to make people feel small so he can feel big. Be the bigger man by not trying to be the bigger man.
Words, language, and communication are man’s greatest inventions, and the internet is the greatest vehicle for communication. We have a powerful thing at our fingertips, something that can tear someone’s world apart with a few clicks of mice and clacks of keys. However, unlike the most powerful of man’s inventions, the atomic bomb, this tool can and should be used for good. The internet has made billions of people laugh, has made people cry tears of joy, has gotten people new opportunities they wouldn’t have happened into without this worldwide communication tool, and it’s changed people’s lives for the better. As a fellow internet user to another, don’t let your online actions change people’s lives for the worse. Even something as small as one condescending comment can make a person feel bad about him-or-herself, start them on the path of discouragement, and lead to a world of problems if it gets deep enough into their heads.
We’ve all got the power now, through the wonder of the internet, to change someone’s world. Try to change someone’s world for the better today. Give a compliment on somebody’s picture. Share your thoughts on something they post. If you must say something negative, do so constructively rather than destructively. Build people up, don’t beat people down. Remember times in your life you’ve been bullied and how it made you feel. Being good to one another isn’t hard, we just need to relearn the way we speak through text and remember how much power you have over someone’s world with something as small as a handful of words. Many of us are guilty. All of us should keep this in mind.
This time around, the grain of salt should be taken with the fact that I am not a psychology or sociology major. I am speaking simply from the things I’ve observed, and admittedly, the things I’ve done and said to people when I let the power of the internet go to my head and cloud my judgment. On occasion, it’s corrupted me and turned me into a nasty kind of person that I don’t like and don’t want to be. If I feel this way, assuredly many more people must feel the same. Today I hope that others feel what I’m saying and see its relevance to their own lives. Don’t take the internet with a grain of salt – its business deserves to be taken seriously.