I saw a post up on xkcd today, the actual post is after the jump. I think back to all the interactions I’ve had since being introduced to the wonderful world of the internet way back in 1994. There was a text based online game called a MUD that a friend of mine introduced me to, it was an online game, and the screen was nothing but words describing rooms, objects in the room, and the people in the room. It was an interesting social environment. There was the good, the bad, and the horrific. The handle I use and the name of this site was created on that game. I remember starting out and being completely new to the whole phenomenon known as the internet, I used the social skills that I had learned for the past 18 years of life as a guide for how one should behave in this new environment. But it did not take me long to come to the rationalization that the mud, is simply just a game, that all the actions done are mere words. I was an asshole before in reality, but damn, it became REAL easy to be an asshole when all you see are words – the nameless, faceless masses that exist behind other monitors connected by a series of wires simply didn’t exist in reality for me; all I saw were a user name and words.
Flash forward a good 10 years, I’ve evolved to blog postings and message board postings. As much as I would like to think highly of myself and state that I say and treat people in reality, exactly as I treat them through the various internet interfaces; but I would be lying. There is security in hiding behind a monitor. There is security that what you type can take as much time as possible; can be rewritten, can be erased, etc. Granted somethings that are real time such as chats are very similar to face to face interaction; you still have time to think and edit yourself up until the point of hitting that return key. But things such as forums and blogs where posts can be deleted, edited, etc – we are less restrained, we are less thoughtful, and everything is a mass of stream of conscious string of words thrown down without the fear of consequences or repercussions.
Now do not mistake me, I am not trying to go all soft and touchy feely here. Just recognize that regardless of what one posts or says, there is always the possibility, regardless of how remote the possibility; that one can meet face to face with someone whom they have had a heated internet argument. Going back to 1998, I remember once going to a gathering of folks from the good old Mud I played, and was still playing at the time. It is funny that the introductions at the door were fairly awkward as most folks did not know each other. Yet the simple act of introducing your character name, all the infamy, all the actions, all the things that you have done through words on a system that is only a game – come crashing down and I was left to deal with a back log of repercussions. Upon hearing my character name, one guy actually screamed in exclamation, jumped over a couch, in midair, pulled out a retractable baton, and proceeded to wrap it around my neck. “Hi, nice to meet you too.”
I’m still going to continue in my ways, and post as my personality dictates. But I will keep the awareness that I there is a possibility, regardless of the improbability; I could come face to face with a mad man and his retractable baton.