Posted in the failure mode of clever

being clever (or not) online

one of the things that’s hard to get right in a purely written medium is tone. people can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or funny or serious a lot of the time. i made that mistake once with somebody i don’t even know and got called out for it. in front of his 48,000+ followers and everyone who happened to re-tweet it.

several years ago i donated to wil wheaton‘s team in the wiggle waggle walk. i was bored so i read through the scroll that mentioned who had donated and noticed that john scalzi, an author i admire and follow on twitter and at his personal blog, wasn’t listed. knowing that the two were friends i made a joke about it on twitter.

now, i don’t know either of these people personally. i don’t even “know” them online. i read mr. scalzi’s blog daily, i read (and have read) books that each of them have published, and i randomly check their twitter streams for interesting tidbits; that is the extent of my contact with them. but there’s something about the internet that makes you think that you know people, especially people who seem to be down-to-earth and real and not a dick. there’s something about typing words that allows some part of our brain to forget that we don’t actually know these people.

the upshot? mr. scalzi called me out about my comment.

let’s face it. i had no business making a comment, joke or not, about his timing on or personal decision to make charitable contributions. his charitable contributions are none of my business, they’re none of anyone’s business who doesn’t have the last name of scalzi and live in his household. i tweeted him back that it was just a joke and he was gracious about it. he would have been within his rights not to be; he would have been within his rights to block me on twitter because, let’s face it, that was a dick move on my part. but he was gracious and even took the extra time to explain to me why the comment was upsetting to him.

here’s the thing about all of this: we don’t really know most of the people we interact with online. we talk to these people, we write to these people, we talk about these people, but we don’t know them. why on earth would we say something online to or about someone that we would never dream of saying to or about someone that we actually know in real life? i wouldn’t ever mention to anyone, in passing or in serious conversation, that my best friend didn’t make or hadn’t yet made a contribution to a charity, so what makes it okay to mention that on twitter about someone i don’t even know? nothing makes it okay.

some time later, mr. scalzi posted an entry entitled the failure mode of clever on his blog. i’m not narcissistic enough to believe this was about me (especially since it particularly mentions private communications and i so didn’t do my “communicating” privately) but i have taken it to heart. i have it bookmarked and i have re-posted it often. i have emailed it to a few friends. and now, when i post on social media or send messages, i stop and think about that tweet and about that article. is what i’m saying really necessary? is it germane to the conversation or am i trying to be clever? are people going to understand that i’m trying to be clever? it’s not a long process, most of the time the only thing that flashes through my mind is the title of that blog post and that’s enough to make my decision.

p.s. “cleverosity” is the name of my next band.

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3 thoughts on “being clever (or not) online

  1. I would totally buy cleverosity’s first album, on the name alone.

    My grandma used to ask us to think about these three questions before we spoke: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Her rule of thumb was it had to be two out of the three to make it worth speaking. (Sometimes we might be in a situation where we have to say something that is unkind but it true and necessary, or we want to say something that is kind and true but not strictly necessary, etc.)

    I still think about these questions nearly every day. (And, as it turns out, Grandma borrowed these questions from Buddha.)

    Thank you for making me think a bit more before I type! I am off to read Scalzi’s article.

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