Adults only

We’re adults. We’re clever, y’know. We’re big an’ grown up an’ we know… y’know. Stuff.

Our opinions matter, and we expect our friends to listen to them and share theirs. Weirdly, this doesn’t happen so much online or, increasingly, in the media.

We’re totes sosh…

We are innately social creatures. In Maslow’s Heirarchy of Human Needs, love and belonging are third on the list after safety and physiological needs. Given esteem needs – confidence, achievement and mutual respect – is next on the list, why, do we not play nice with other adults via most electronic media or channels?

We’re all guilty of unthinkingly (or provocatively) throwing words together and pressing Enter before our spittle hits the screen, either starting or fuelling online exchanges with the emotional impetus of a four year old and/or we allow untempered responses to spring off our ego.

Pouty-mouthed and righteous replies ping until our pages, feeds and e-comms pong.

… but, we need to learn social grace online.

There are theories (social and academic) floating about that attempt to explain why this happens.

GIF (Greater Internet Fuckwad) Theory makes me chuckle, but it’s best attributed to troll-ish behaviour as it doesn’t explain what’s going on within our own circle of online and electronic connections.

GIF Theory was developed by web comic producers Penny Arcade and featured in Green Blackboards (And Other Anomalies). The theory asserts that people act like “fuckwads” because they want attention and can’t get caught:

Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total F*ckwad

The Online Disinhibition Effect by John Suler PhD provides a deeper and more considered analysis of bad online behaviour that details six factors, of which any combination can affect individuals:

  • Dissociative anonymity: You can’t identify me through my avatar or username. It’s not really me.
  • Invisibility: You can’t see me and I can’t see you or read your body language.
  • Asynchronicity: Many online conversations don’t happen in real time, so you can make your hit (write something emotive) and run (walk away or turn off).
  • Solipsistic introjection: Online interactions occur and evolve in your own head.
  • Dissociative imagination: It’s not real, it’s just a game. This is most applicable to gamers, but true for anyone who creates an online identity that doesn’t identify the individual.
  • Minimisation of status and authority: Unlike real life, we’re all equal online.

Sulan reminds readers of other important considerations, such as individual characteristics and predispositions, which might include:

  • cultural values
  • personality styles
  • the intensity of personal feelings and needs
  • how much we reveal our true selves in real versus virtual life
  • the shift we make between various media (intrapsychic constellations) and the media’s affect on otherwise inhibited behaviours or reactions.

If it’s so unacceptable, why do we perpetuate it?

There’s a little bit o’ good and a little bit o’ bad
in all of us.

Very few people can exclude themselves from online ping-pong. Frankly, despite there being a little bit o’ nasty in each of us, there’s really no reason or excuse to be an arsehole (virtual or actual).

I recall an instance where I responded to a friend’s post on Facebook, only to have it descend into a slinging match. We were both in the wrong for a range of reasons. On reflection, the situation could have been avoided by:

  • Not posting the comment
    Comments that walk a fine line, but ring true for select friends are best left for sharing via private messaging or in person.
  • Not responding to the comment
    So, you think it’s only other people who frequent the Land of Stupid? We’ve all been in the vicinity (see Sulan above). Let it go.

I call bullshit on the nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Anyone with an ego (that’s all of us) is offended by certain words – particularly when they’re shared online when there’s no body language or context to help decipher it.

That’s why the words we use electronically need to be more…


… and less…


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