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.’