The Internet Is Not Your Life

So someone hopped onto your favorite online discussion forum and started spewing some ignorant shit. Not just an opinion you disagreed with, but some obviously confrontational, arrogant nonsense. About Catholicism, or Java vs Perl, or libertarianism, or genetics, or Ralph Nader, or whatever. And you get angry. You get upset. You consider crafting the perfect eight-point response, full of wit and intelligence and just the right amount of disdain, to tell that person off, and you fire up the text editor, ready to go ...

Stop for one second and consider: How much does it matter that there is one ignorant person out there in the world? How much does it have to affect you? Do you think that such a foolish person has any chance of influencing anybody you care about? And if this foolishness infected the community you liked, would it be so bad if you were forced to move on and find something else?

Because if you write that response, and the other person flames you back, before you know it you'll get sucked into some downward spiral and you will spend literally hours arguing with somebody whose opinion you don't even really respect. This is time that you can use in other ways. You could go for a bike ride. You could pick up that guitar and teach yourself how to play that one song you really like. You could have lunch with a friend you haven't talked to in a while. This is not time that you should waste on some loser whom you will not remember a year from now.


On the other hand, there are times when a careful and witty response can defuse the situation while at the same time portraying the opponent as an utter fool and inspiring real discussion. The game lies in crafting such responses, and not having any other life to prevent the Internet from being yours.

Humorous responses can defuse a situation, but attempting to make your opponent look like a fool never improves the situation. People who constantly play the game of one-upmanship contribute a lot of noise to the Internet.

When you point out the foolishness of a wise person, he admits his foolishness and continues the conversation. When you point out the foolishness of a fool, he simply denies it, as loudly and insistently as possible.

Unfortunately, most wise people of my acquaintance are also human and do not like to be portrayed as fools. Humorous responses are difficult to craft and highly prone to misunderstanding. Instead, try a single response directed precisely at the problem. If the statements are off topic, say "These comments are off topic for this conversation". If the speaker or author is being rude or intimidating, say "I find your manner rude and intimidating. Please restate your comments." If the first attempt fails, walk away. The situation probably cannot be salvaged.
Note that there's a situation-specific dimension to the original problem, namely, the concern of defending a community. If you're part of a pleasant online community, and someone comes on and starts seriously polluting that community with inflammatory babble, then it may be worth responding.

However, the main point stands: We tend to get so caught up in our internet world that we lose our perspective of what's really important. Perhaps the time you would have spent replying would be better spent calling up a friend or taking a walk outside.

-- BrentNewhall

Outside? Friend? What are these strange words you use?

Actually, the above is exactly the attitude that this page attempts to address. The machismo of that statement hides a very real danger of getting too caught up in the internet, even if it is humorous. -- BrentNewhall

There is no machismo in that statement.

No... I hear only the dull realization that someone is in a bad place.

Yeah, I replaced it with TV.

TV steals time from us.

You must have one of those special TVs that you can't shut off. I'd avoid those.

You could spend time on people and get no where with them, but you still may learn something about yourself. If you offer some facts to back up your opinion, and they still deny you... you can take a look at yourself, and say "hey, I've proved that this guy is really a moron, because I offered facts and he still denied. Even if he does not realize that he is acting immature, I can see that I am at least mature. Now I will no longer respond to him, or I will wait to see if he matures in another post." If your facts could be proven wrong, then fine - let him prove it. He should do so. If you offer facts that the general population agrees with, eventually, other people will side with you, and the moron will disappear. OR it could be the board is not worth visiting if all or a lot the board members deny you, even after you've offered facts, and they have not offered facts.

Facts are not everything, of course. That's just an example. One common problem I see on boards is the whole "noob" issue. Even the most thoughtful posts, if posted by a noob, can be ridiculed, just because they see a newb. Those people are not rational, or are in a temporary state of being irrational (they might not mock you when you have 400 posts, and they may become your friend later, but they still were irrational to bash you being a noob at that time).

In no situation, have I ever seen a positive result for bashing a noob. What good does it ever do? If you are in fact bashing a noob for a really stupid post (i.e. "wheres the warez you poopsticks, thanks, boobie102- first post" on a site about computer hardware), then ignoring would be a proper solution rather than responding about him being a noob.

In fact, I see several forums where noobs are encouraged. A noob might say "thanks for answering my questions, I'm new here". And people encourage the noob even after he's mentioned that he is new. I see this a lot. There is no noob bashing on a lot of forums. It's good that some forums encourage noobs.

-- bozo

Real life comes first

I get up from my desk to talk to people and enter the BigBlueRoom, get stuff done, hang out with interesting people, play and do all those little things that make up the meaning of living. WikiWiki may be interesting, but there is a limit to how much time I care to put into it.

Life is what I can hold on to; wiki is ephemeral and transient. All that is written here is unwritable. TheInternetIsNotYourLife, or at least not my life, even if it is my career. All things in balance. -- SunirShah

See also LetItBe FeelingGood

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