Thursday, January 12, 2012

All Atwitter About Online Happiness

This post has been brewing in my brain for days, maybe months. Years, even. The topic is one that’s overdone to the point of cliché, but I, never one to sit on the sidelines in silence, can’t help but add my proverbial two cents to the cluttered public sphere.

Our topic? When Twitter goes awry. Dun dun dunnn. Lately, I've found myself avoiding Twitter, in particular because it seems that every time I sign on, I end up embroiled in some conversation that only serves to frustrate me. Recent tweets that have stirred up mild to full-scale controversy include: clarifying that my boyfriend is in the Coast Guard, not the National Guard ("Do you think he's better than National Guard soldiers?"); asking whether it's acceptable to say "Happy New year!" mid-January (apparently I'm hostile to kindness); and expressing my view that those who are unwilling to tip service industry workers should not take advantage of service industry services ("They already get paid!"). To varying extents, each conversation left me feeling like some sort of villain for tweeting simple things that were interpreted to uncover nonexistent malice on my part.

My friend Amy just wrote quite eloquently on this topic, & it inspired me to finally assemble my words (but please be assured, this is not a response to her piece). She writes that we should make a concerted effort not to contribute negative energy or ideas to the Twittersphere (sorry for using that awful word), and that if we regularly find ourselves embroiled in online controversy & negative conversation, we should reevaluate what we’re contributing to the space. While I can certainly get on board with the idea that we should all put more thought into the things we say online (and in person!), I believe a large piece of the problem lies elsewhere.

Though there is a lot of unnecessary anger & negativity on Twitter, I think much of our individual frustrations lie in the fact that we follow too many people we'd never be friends with if we met them in real life, people who we would butt heads with no matter what. (Thanks to my pal Ashley for helping me come to this conclusion by coming to it herself.) When we disagree with the majority of someone’s views or dislike a large piece of their personality, the rest ceases to matter. If 50% of things a person says grate on you, it’s going to be difficult to pay attention to the 50% that don’t – in this case, that is to say that if complaining is your biggest Twitter peeve, you’re going to notice every single complaint someone tweets & likely gloss over the other, more positive things they have to say.

Now for the part where I talk about myself a lot. The Me I personify online is largely the Me of offline, too. Because I very much like Offline Me, I'm not interested in changing her or her matching persona, Online Me, for the sake of people who would not like me to begin with. Am I a super-negative person? No. A hundred times no. Yes, I am a strong personality with strong opinions, but here’s something interesting: I can't remember a single time when one of my tweets has offended one of the many real-life friends or acquaintances who follows me on Twitter. This leads me to believe that either my friends are meek & don't tell me when they think something is offensive (unlikely, as those aren't the kind of people I'm friends with!) or that they understand the way my real-life personality translates onto digital paper. Does that mean I need to do a better job of conveying the good aspects of my personality online? Perhaps, & I'll take that point (& work on it). However, I think it also means that, based on my real-life personality, these people can distinguish tone & intent through limited 140-character statements and know that I never (OK, rarely) have negative or nasty intentions. They are people who like me to begin with – and so they like me online. Similarly, people who like me online would probably like me in person, and people who don’t would not.

What I'm trying to say is that, yes, we could all benefit from evaluating our contributions to the online sphere. We could all benefit from a little bit of introspection, a look into why we sometimes say things online that we probably wouldn’t say to someone’s face. However, I also suggest that we should make a concerted effort to stop following people we wouldn't like anyway, particularly if they aggravate us to the point of making our social media space a less enjoyable place to be – which is bound to foster negative interactions & hurt feelings. Rather than telling people they need to be more positive, less sarcastic, more this, less that, I suggest we recognize that we are all, in fact, very different, & we’re not likely to appreciate or enjoy the same types of people in real-life or online. Telling people who they need to be in order to make us happy fails to recognize and respect individuality, including the fact that different things make different people happy.

Controversial conclusion: If we stick to folks who "get" us (& vice versa), we're able to be ourselves online without worrying about the people who seem to interpret everything we say the wrong way. Does this lessen the beauty of social media that allows us to befriend people different than us who we might never seize the opportunity to speak with or get to know in real life? Yes, yes, yes, & don’t get me wrong: I certainly don’t suggest we unfollow every person who’s a little bit different than us – rather, that we stop trying to mold people’s personalities into our own expectations of what makes someone follow-worthy. There's a reason we like the people we like in real life, & there's no reason to abandon our principles of what makes for a worthwhile friend for the sake of diversifying our online space.


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