Howling at the Moon

Almost everyone can read almost anything you write on the Internet.  Even if you make your social networking site blog private or ‘friends locked’ or whatever.  Even if you choose another name for yourself, one that you think will never be connected to you as a flesh-and-blood human.  There are ways around all those picket fences, and most of them are not nearly as complicated as the social networking sites would have you believe.  The vaunted anonymity of the Internet does not exist.

And if you are reading this, I’m sure you are saying, “Well, of course, I knew that. Everyone knows that!” 

And we do. On some level. But why, then, do almost all of us write such appalling things?  Even knowing that almost anyone can read them, even knowing that what you write will probably exist in perpetuity, for as long as there are pixels?  Why do we write such cruel and destructive things?

We all get angry. Or sad.  Or even clinically depressed, some of us.  Or paranoid to where we think even our most loving friends are out to get us.  I know we all feel such things.  I just wonder how they manage to break out into pixels?

Some of it is understandable. Angsty teen blogging, the sort of stuff that used to be confined to spiral notebooks, seems to be a hazard that afflicts many today. Comments about teachers, siblings, parents, ex-boyfriends, the slut-ho who stole that ex-boyfriend all get out there onto millions of screens, with apparently no though that six years from now, you might want to work alongside that slut-ho, or you might be putting a job application in to the company run by slut-ho’s mother. 

But teenagers, well.  As I said, I think I understand that sort of rash behavior for the under 15 crowd. 

Too often the rash words are thrown out by people who are substantially older and one would hope, a bit wiser.   I surf into them and freeze in shock and awe at the sight of someone shooting themselves in the foot with words.   Words about your husband.  Or your teenage daughter.  Obscenities about your employer or co-worker.  Words that surely you would not say aloud on a streetcorner or in the noise of the company cafeteria.  Yet there you are, belching them out where they can be read, not only today, but ten years from now. Or, who knows, perhaps one hundred years from now.

It reminds me of the abusive parents that one overhears in the supermarket or laundromat.  The ones that call their children ‘stupid’ or ‘you little bitch/bastard’.  Do they really think that their kids are not already people, people who will remember that not just next year, but for the next sixty or seventy years?  Do you really want that to be the rock you give your kid to carry around for the rest of his/her life?

Your blog is the same.  The thing you say about your disrespectful, irresponsible (and absolutely normal) teenager is going to get back to him/her.  It’s going to stick and fester, long after today’s little quarrel is over and forgotten.  Long after the dirty laundry left on the floor has become tattered threads, the words you typed will linger.

It’s true about people you don’t know well, also.  Comments you make on the school principal, or the owner of the hair salon where you get your locks styled, or Bill Gates or Stephanie Meyer or Lady Gaga linger and some, at least, do get back to their targets.

There are times to criticize public officials.  Times to stay clearly that you think your congressman is not keeping his promises, or that a basketball player or movie star is a poor role model.  There are times when it is not just your right, but your duty to speak out plainly.

Yet it would be so wonderful if we could also recall that there is a time and place for  ‘If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.’


12 Responses to Howling at the Moon

  1. I always wonder how those people are going to feel when their child/friend/MIL find their writing.

    If you wouldn’t say something to them in person, or in a room full of people, why say it on the Internet? There’s no anonymity on the Internet, as much as we’d like to think there is.

  2. Sadly I have often looked at an ‘adult’ and thought “but you should know better by now”. The idea of ‘adult’ is misleading. We may be grown, pay our bills and be allowed to drive and drink (hopefully not at the same time), yet we have not all learnt the same lessons. Some adults are not evening looking to learn from new lessons. A lot of adults are still just children walking around in adult suits. Me included- I sometimes make mistakes (though not like the one here) that another ‘adult’ would consider childish. Its sad in this case because people can get hurt, yet I doubt they will learn their lesson.

  3. Maybe its all necessary.A further understanding of the human collective.Millions of people now have a voice to the ear of the world…

  4. I agree, if you need to say it, say it in their face and leave the world out of it. Most of those “horrible things” that people bitch about online can be solved with some good old-fashioned talk, much more constructive…

  5. Having recently been a “victim” of a co-workers virtual vitriol I completely agree that one would hope people were just a bit “wiser”! Discretion being the better part of valor, I have opted to stay silent and not fuel the virtual fire.

    Thank you for helping me to see I am not among the minority in feeling that people should just THINK before hitting that “SUBMIT” button.

  6. Well said. One of the most frustrating aspects of my job as an online editor is dealing with the people who blog and comment on our site. I’ve often wondered why seemingly rational adults turn into spoiled kindergarteners when they get behind a screen name. Actually, my kindergartener has better manners than most of them. I just don’t understand. I agree with Veronica. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online.

  7. I’m currently 37 years old. I have known for a very long time the person(s) you associate, and share your life with is a huge reflection of who you truly are. I don’t have many friends because of this, but at least I know the ones I do have are truly my friends and I won’t be as easily discarded when I have no value for them to use up.

    Ten years ago I moved from Houston, Texas to the Detroit area. I am still just as close with my friends there as I was the day I left. One of my Houston friends is getting married next month. Just to give a quick example of my friendships, I met him when I was seventeen and because I can’t make it for his wedding he is setting up a video conference so I can, in someway, be there for him. With all of the chaos going on around him, he is taking the time to insure I can be there.

    In the ten years I have been absent, I have made six true friends. I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything in the world. People nowadays think of others as if they were some kind of stocks or tradable commodity. They are to be discarded, sold or bartered when the awards or proper return simply isn’t there. They expect something for nothing. They expect respect from everyone and at the same time don’t expect to be respectful of anyone. They won’t, and don’t, take responsibility for their own actions. Be it someone you know or something someone has posted online. I fear as the population grows so with this disease of hatred grow.

    I feel sorry anyone who does not have what I do with my friends; my family. The populace somehow has forgotten friends are and should be an extension of your family. We are all connected in one way or another. It doesn’t take much too mistakenly hurt someone who you did not intend. I guess what I’m trying to say and starting to get wordy about is, six-degrees doesn’t just work for Kevin Bacon, it works for all of us.

  8. So very true. I do happen to have an account at Hyves (The Dutch equivalent of Facebook), but I have very little information on my page, precisely for the reasons mentioned. What does astound me, though, is the kind of stuff other people put on their pages. Not just badmouthing other people, but really personal stuff that you surely wouldn’t want everyone to know?

  9. I don’t have anything clever or significant to add to this, I just want to say Robin Hobb, you are the best writer EVER…..forget Harry Potter, your books RULE!!!!!!

  10. Don’t want to sound like I’m fawning, but I had to leave a little comment here. I came to this site looking for more informatin on you, as I’ve just discovered your writing. (Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven, anxiously awaiting more.) I liked your stories because it’s a fantasy world fraught with real-life ethical conflict and dilemma. Now I’ve read your words as a human, not just an author, and I’m even happier to have found your work. Thanks.

  11. like the guy above me, I also found the site looking for more information about you as an author.

    funny thing is I have been dealing a lot with the situations you desribed lately.
    many times when I get upset or feel wronged by my freinds and family, I resort to the computer to get some cheer out of my favorite sites and such, but eventualy I find myself on the facebook writing emotional statements in my newsfeed slot. I never publish them for the fear of embaressment or otherwise breaking the image of a confident optimistic girl that I present myself as. something iside me just wants to rant and complain and unload all the emotions that a scrapbook cant satisfy.

    I guess certain people just cant resist the temptation of imediate releif accompanied by comments and feedback.