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February 21, 2013

Overnight Open Thread for Thursday, 2-21-2013

Last night's ONT found me extolling the virtues of the internet as a tool for creative-types and lamenting the seemingly inverse relationship between the availability of rich, high quality content on the web and the average person's capacity to fully absorb it. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that I was essentially making a point, however scattered, about the double-edged-sword nature of the explosion in the availability of rich, high-quality content. Consuming media on the internet these days is a wharrgarblian task.

There's another aspect of the internet that carries a similar trade-off as it relates to person-to-person interaction. (I realize this is at least the fifth post ever written on the internet about its dehumanizing effects, but bear with me here.) It seems that for a lot of people, along with the ability to instantly communicate with people comes the irresistible compulsion to do it shabbily. Well, I'm here to help.

Call me a babe in the woods, but I happen to think there's still something to be said for basic common courtesy in person-to-person correspondence, no matter how informal. I've always found that in communicating with someone, whether through email or a blog comment, it's best to start off on a reasonably polite note. Greetings and salutations might be a bit much, but alternatively, if you jump right in with a simpering philippic most normal people will give it a cursory scan and conjure the mental image below:

Ironically enough, I think the tendency to behave that way on the internet has a great deal to do with the image a person is trying to put forth; they honestly believe they look better by coming off as an insufferable prig than they would if they were more mannerly and civil. They just don't understand how they really look to everyone else around them. I've been trying to come up with a good analogy to describe it, and I think it is pretty well summed up in this story.

"The water did have a funny taste," Sabrina Baugh told CNN on Wednesday. She and her husband used the water for eight days.

"We never thought anything of it," the British woman said. "We thought it was just the way it was here."

What she described was not normal.

If you imagine everyone else around you as the guests in that hotel, and you and your comment as the source of that funny-tasting water, you have a pretty good idea of just what kind of impression you're making on others.

Now, I'll admit to less than pristine hands on the matter. I've composed my share of dyspeptic screeds over the years. But, that's generally a consequence of having major disagreements on matters I feel passionately about -- particularly as it relates to politics. But, I'm talking about something else, here. What I'm talking about is the immediate and uncontrollable urge among some people to fling poo over the most minor point of contention. (Click image to view in full.)

The surprising thing about this phenomenon is how long people will persist in such behavior before it dawns on them that they're not really coming off as the too-hip-for-the-room, irreverent anti-hero they imagine themselves to be. Almost invariably, the person who delights in always being the loudest, most caustic voice in the room will end up in a flame war, suddenly look around at everyone else, note all the furrowed brows, and wonder why no one's there to back them up.

All of this would be fine if the consequences of that kind of behavior stopped with the person who engaged in it. Unfortunately, it doesn't. In fact, like the body in the water tank in the story linked above, that kind of attitude taints everything around it. And the ultimate result is that people of generally good will have less reason to assume that the other people they're dealing with share that good will, which in turn leads to communication breakdown. Suddenly, the idea of creating a new class of punctuation for the sake of clarity seems reasonable. (Click image to view in full.)

Thankfully, though, there are still people in the world who appreciate the importance of communicating with others in a forthright and reasonably humble manner. We all forget it sometimes, but on those occasions when we do, taking the time to rectify the situation in such a way is often all that's needed. I can't begin to count the number of times I've felt pangs of regret for something I've said or done and remedied the entire matter by simply acknowledging my culpability and doing my best to set things right.

Now, maybe you're one of those people, and maybe you're not. Deep-down, though, you know whether or not you are. And maybe you're just the kind of sociopath who actually enjoys being that way -- in which case, I pity you. You'll eventually get your comeuppance.

But, if you do a little self-reflection and determine that you don't really want people to have that kind of an impression of you, then you're well on your way to becoming a normal, functioning adult. The first, most important step in becoming a better person is admitting you have a problem.

Tonight's ONT is brought to you by bards.

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posted by Damn Dirty RINO at 10:00 PM

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