Danger! Words Falling

Or, How to use your words and not get in a virtual punch-up.

Or, How to ask a question in a conversation without it being interpreted as defensive.

Or, How to count to three before becoming defensive and typing something you’ll regret.

Or, Use Your Words! (a refresher course for grown ups).

So many words, so many ways to use them.

Lately it seems that there’s been a spate of word wars going on – from the national level all the way down to the whispery back alleys of Facebook Messenger. Is it the weather? Do we all just need a bit of sunshine? I’m not sure.

I’ve been ruminating on the whys and wherefores, while I’ve dodged missives, and read posts about people feeling misunderstood, and found myself wondering about intent and purpose in some of the words I’ve been reading. We often talk about the new landscape we’re in, the digital world, that our kids are growing up as digital natives, while dinosaurs like me remember using a manual typewriter for some of the tasks in my first job.

I wonder if we need to form a whole new etiquette around how to interact online. Actually, I don’t wonder, I know we need it.

Rule no. 1 seems a pretty good one – Don’t be a dick.

But what about Rules 2 – 286? Who is writing those, and how do we agree on what’s acceptable and what’s not? (I know blogs are supposed to be useful, but I don’t think I’ll actually be able to tie this one neatly up before I have to get ready for work today. It’s a start though!)

What I’d like to do, with my words, is start a conversation about online civility. Eek, how totally old school is that?

Let’s start with an example around the Adam Goodes furore that’s caused a lot of heated words to be exchanged.

A blogger I like and follow was talking about this topic on her Facebook page last week. She was saying that some people react very strongly to any statements about Australia being a racist country. The observation was made that if you react strongly, it’s possible (read that word carefully) that it is because the accusation stings, that perhaps booing Goodes isn’t just about the nature of sport or ‘Australian tradition’ or whatever else you want to call it, it’s a demonstration of what is perhaps a sadly unconscious level of racism at play in the general population. I’m only using this as an example, let’s keep that in mind.

Of course, that started a long conversation with people chiming in with their points of view, myself included. Then someone else that I ‘know’ online replied to my comment, and I didn’t understand what she meant. I read and re-read her words but couldn’t work out her intent.

I knew right then that I could go one of two ways. I could get all huffity and assume (a very important word in the online world) that she was perhaps saying my response fell into the ‘she protests too much’ category – which seemed at odds with my other interactions with her – or I could ask her a question about what she’d written.

I took the latter route, asked a question, and by morning, clarification ensued! I didn’t need to be offended or start badmouthing her, or the blogger that started the conversation, I just needed to stop, think about whether the comment seemed in character and then ask a question. I hesitated before I did it, I don’t mind telling you. I did not want to get into a fight!

Have you noticed that asking a question on line is much harder than it is in real face to face, or voice to voice conversation? I have.

There’s something about typing, say, ‘What do you mean?’ that seems, well, a bit snarky or possibly rude. Toneless mediums are vastly different to the other ways we are used to communicating, and I think sometimes we forget that we can’t see the person’s face or hear the inflection in their words or read their body language, and that those things play a huge part in how we receive words. This can cause us to assume a defensive posture, when there’s absolutely no need for it.

Lightbulb moment, what if this is just me, and everyone else is happily asking questions online and getting through life merrily?? Say it isn’t so!!

I think it’s a thing though.

I reckon we don’t quite know yet, how to actually have conversations online, to have discussions and dialogues. I think we’ve become very good at tap-tap-tapping I THINK THIS. And depending on where we hang out online, it just sits out there, or other like minded people read it and hit the like button, or tap back, me too, isn’t it great!

Where I would love to grow, as an new citizen in the digital world, is in asking questions and in receiving questions without a single frown line or grimace or huffity-huff micro-response. I can manage that when I’m face to face with people (mostly), so I really think it’s a skill that’s transferrable.

Online communication, lightning fast as it is, also takes more patience and practice.

One of my major goals for I Give You The Verbs – world domination aside – is to create a genuinely interactive space, where questions are welcomed, where respectful, lively conversation goes on, where my awesome reader pals help each other out, and (politely, privately) even set me straight when I need it.

I don’t know about you, but spaces online that promote inclusive, engaged, inquisitive chat are the places I want to be.

It’s one of the big items on my check list for following a blog; how much conversation flows, how I feel when I read it and whether I think about what’s been written later on. Is that blog a good-for-me space? A space that builds me (and others) up and makes me see the world as connected rather than disconnected? Do the readers treat each other with kindness? Am I sometimes challenged by what I read? If that blog was a dinner party, would I be texting under the table, or fully engaged in the conversation around me?

I think we can all agree on Rule 1 of online etiquette: Don’t be a dick.

Anyone want to offer up rule 2, 3 or 4?

I’d love to hear what you think about online civility and asking questions.

Have you ever misunderstood someone online, or been misconstrued?

Do you ask questions online? Tell me everything!

Here’s to learning how to navigate this terrain together, and to being each other’s teachers and cheerleaders as we go.


Annette x