16 December 2010

Context

Recently read a post that discussed something having to do with cleaning solutions and maybe twitter campaigns and something else....never mind the point is that the discussion was quickly overrun by the anti-chemical people. In a surprising twist among the rants was a commenter who made a good point. The exchange went something like this:

Commenter 1: We should be careful throwing around the word "chemicals", everything is a chemical and if people think that we don't know that it, it discredits our position.

Commenter 2: Of course we know that, everyone knows the term "chemicals" means only the bad ones.

Yeah, but does everyone know that? Does everyone know that you know that? While the whole "crazy people who don't get the idea of chemicals" is kind of a pet peeve of mine, this really illustrated a bigger point. You can't assume that everyone is you. While you can be fairly sure that people reading your blog are there because there is something common about the experience you are sharing, the same context can't be applied across the board. Add in that tone and intent are hard to enunciate in plain text and you can find some real trouble. Lets face it all the lunatic fringe groups that get created by seemingly innocuous social movements get there because not everyone does know where the fine line sits. (My thoughts on how "militant theory parenting" is just a normal evolution of perfectly logical social theory is a discussion for another post.)

I know this because I personally commented on another blog that I have no tolerance for people who don't vaccinate and another commenter (quite fairly) called me on it, asking "what about people who can't for a reason?" While I stand by my belief that people who choose not to vaccinate are idiots (with the notable exception of the flu shot because that is such a shot in the dark, but I do digress), I assumed that avoiding vaccines for a genuine medical reason was clearly an implied exception to the rule. However, that is not what my words said. Lesson learned.

This happens all the time on the web. In normal human conversation we tend to talk in broad terms because the context of the discussion sets the necessary boundaries. Out here in cyberspace our words may only mean exactly what Webster says they mean. Add in that the web is a big place, with an odd sampling of the population at large and it is a recipe for disaster. It comes as no surprise that ButtHurt Bonanza and the Special-Snowflake-capades are practically national sport now. Never before has there existed such a perfect forum to spout the crazy and enjoy the endless whining that results.

So what is the point of all this. I often find myself struggling to write posts because I dont want to offend anyone. Not because I think we should all live in a perfect world where everyone's ideas (no matter how ill-informed or just plain crazy) are considered equal, but because I don't want the actual message of my occasional deep post to get lost in the onslaught of offended-ness. I have no problem taking a stand on controversial issues, I just have a problem with controversy being generated where there is none. Also, there is some level of responsibility that comes along with putting stuff out there in such a public place. You can never be 100% sure how people will interpret it and I would feel badly if I had inadvertently hurt someone's feelings when that is not my intent. (Of course where is the line between your feelings being hurt because you just don't share that belief, in which case we all need to get over it, and when feelings are hurt because someone was genuinely hurtful for no reason? Oy, the layers! The layers!)

How do you do this? How do you talk about your own things "safely" without every other line being a disclaimer? I don't know. I do know that I have learned to be more careful (though far from perfect) with my words, but I also know that some things I believe are not popular and no amount of rephrasing can fix that. I guess I just hope that if I stir up "controversy" it is because it is a hot topic worthy of heated discussion and not just because everyone is so caught up in the vernacular of their own agenda.

Man, this blogging thing was way easier when it was just posting pictures and screwing around with HTML...damn me and my over-analyzing-type-A personality!

2 comments:

kathleen (amoment2think) said...

I love you. And I think you and I might be long lost twins when it comes to thinking about this stuff. I have the same issues with online discussion and the same conundrums with my blog. My point often gets lost in disclaimers. I try to not offend and be clear in my words, but I cant control how others take things. Anyway, I was nodding through this whole post. Well said.

Alexis said...

@kathleen (amoment2think)
Thanks! It is a very hard thing to figure out and I am glad to know that I am not the only one who has trouble finding their online voice. In real-life it is easy to be me and discuss anything, but in plain text I am kind of a big B, at least when you don't have the other social factors as buffer.