You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
– Inigo Montoya
As a child, after having been caught out in some mischievous trick or another, I would look at my father and plaintively protest: “I didn’t mean to!” “Ah,” Dad would answer, “but you didn’t mean not to, either.”
I never appreciated the real wisdom in his words until I started participating in online “debates.”
We use the word “friend” a lot in social media circles. Heck, Facebook is built on the concept. It’s a noun; it’s a verb; it’s a thumbnail…and we’ve forgotten what it means.
Mental image: You’re in your car, and unbeknownst to you, your friend is lying on the ground behind it. You innocently put the car in reverse, and run him over. To this point, little blame could be assigned; you had no suspicion of what was about to happen. It was an accident.
In real life, this (hopefully) is where it would end. You shut off your car, call an ambulance, and your friend is rushed to the hospital. Another day; another life saved. In real life. But not in the wonderful world of Internet commentary.
No. In that world, you throw the car into drive, and run him over again. And back into reverse. (WHUMP!) And drive. (WHUMP!) And reverse…You get the picture.
Or, imagine that you’re watching a friend being repeatedly run over in your driveway by another friend. At what point do you intervene to stop the carnage? At what point do you bring out the lawn chair and the popcorn?
And here’s the craziest thing of all: In real life, my guess (and hope) is that, under circumstances like these, it wouldn’t have to be a “friend” for you to spring into action. You might even do it for a cat or a dog (or, if you’re my wife, a caterpillar). On the other hand, as the vitriol flies in the blogosphere and your “friends” get beaten to a bloody theoretical pulp, where are you? Do you step into defend, or at least to moderate the conversation? Or are you, perhaps, one of the bullies yourself?
For whatever reason, the minute we start commenting online, some switch is flipped, and decency flies out the window. We act toward digital “friends” in ways we would never act in real life. And we patch it up with that epitome of the pseudo-personal touch: the emoticon.
“I’m sorry if I mauled you like a bear in front of God and everybody.” Sad face. Sad face. Sad face.
I didn’t mean to. Ah, but you didn’t mean not to, either.
With emoticons like these, who needs enemies?