Sometimes when I get embroiled in a debate on the internet (which lately is often, due to my new gig at Talking Philosophy) I look up from time to time and think “are these real people or virtual people?” It’s like I’m talking to three dimensional people in a room, but then the vividness dissipates.
If we were all in the same room together, the conversation wouldn’t go the same way. There would be couplings based on factors that are invisible here. That’s one of the charms of the internet. In real life, two people would talk because they’re the same age, they’re attracted to each other, style cues draw them together, and the like. Here we don’t have those distractions.
Here’s my question. When we converse on the internet, should we think of others as real people—as if we actually were sitting in a room. Or is etiquette here different from normal etiquette?
Some people on the internet obviously think it’s different. People will say things on a blog they would never say in real life. For example, this week someone responded to a post of mine by saying:
Good grief, Ms. Kazez. I know you postmodern philosophers hate science, but you might try to investigate the field at least a little bit.That vacuous, ill-reasoned nonsense such as this post is considered acceptable work in professional, academic philosophy is the #1 reason I’ve quit blogging.
Maybe that’s OK. Arguably the break from social conventions is part of the fun.
And maybe there's some benefit to internet rudeness. Who knows, if this commenter didn't get to eviscerate me on the internet, he might run into the street yelling his head off and stabbing people.
Or you could say no. Anything you say here does affect some real, flesh and blood person out in the world. No actual guts get spilled, but the normal rules of interaction ought to be in effect. Be patient, be respectful, listen…all that good stuff.
I admit to an unprincipled position. In any interaction involving me, let politeness reign. If two other people want to act like savages with each other, I actually find if fairly amusing.
p.s. Mark Vernon has a good post about social networking sites today.