Monday, 17 February 2014

Ignoring Friends on the Internet, a users guide

The internet is a strange new world full of bustle and noise. Friends are easily lost amongst the constant bombardment of like-baiting and deceptive exaggeration. We’re the country bumpkins who stumbled onto the streets of a crowded city, ignorant of the many pitfalls, the mercurial meme-fashions and the truncated, awkward etiquette of this environment.
Like Dennis Cooper 

Jabberwocky. NSFW, at all. Via YouTube
31:00 to 33:40 is what it's like social networking for the first time.

The trick to navigating the internet is the same as on any street in the world – be sceptical, don’t broadcast your vulnerabilities, remember who your friends are.

In the noisy online world it’s easy to forget your friends, to think we’ve already replied to an email or comment, or to put a low priority on getting round to it. The fallout is one of the recurring problems with social networking: groups disband because no one replied to a post that everyone read; friendships are tested because people feel like they’ve been ignored; a flippant comment or a hasty response can define us to a huge number of people and make friends doubt us. If we acted in person like many of even the most internet-savvy of us do online we’d often be accused of rudeness and arrogance. Even emoticons can’t convey the nuances of human interactions.

It’s a complex new world and we have to navigate it at the same time as the old world, a place many of us still struggle with. Little red flags tell us how many comments are waiting for us to read; little red flags tell us people want to be our friend; little red flags tell us we have emails waiting to be read, and the emails are often Nigerian businessmen needing our help, lonely robots in our area looking for a good time, special offers, sales, deals of the month, notification of statements ready for reading, reminders and newsletters, and endless streams of spam spam spam spam spammity spam.

BBC/Monty Python, via YouTube
Where it all began

It’s easy to lose track of what’s important. The right choice is usually not the easy one. The two things of most value on the internet are truth and friendship. The two most common things on the internet are fabrications and acquaintances.*

The digital age needs better etiquette, but don’t expect everyone to take it up. Being polite has never been common in any society. It sounds snobbish to modern ears, but ‘common’ was once the antonym of all things refined or well-mannered. Acting, as they used to say, like a lady or gentleman has always been the exception rather than the rule, but mostly due to reasons of culture, class, money, education and geography. I see little excuse for it now. Manners and politeness are accessible to all, they're what we expect from others. Only the most self-obsessed and self-entitled assume the rule doesn’t apply to them. How we behave around others, especially the least powerful in the room, defines us. How we treat our friends shapes the world we live in. Acquaintances exist in a bottomless shifting reservoir of mass populations, but friendships require maintenance or they cease to be.

*And cats, obviously.

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