Friday, September 28, 2007

Pet Peeves about Internet Chatters

I'm a strongly opinionated person, something I should admit right off the bat. So, when I chat on Yahoo (my usual location is Religion:1 or Religion:2), I expect that there will be plenty of people who disagree with me about my views, especially as I am something of a theist and the rooms are popular with atheists and agnostics, as well as fundamentalists and evangelists of several faiths, who have no listed rooms under their categories in most cases. I believe I'm right, and other people believe they are right. That's human nature.

There are some things, however, that irritate me about certain chatters. For one thing, when they realize that I and others don't simply stop and agree in wonder and amazement when they declare what they intend to be taken as THE GREATEST TRUTH, they'll keep repeating what they just said, usually offering nothing for evidence to support it, and act like the burden of proof is on me or the other guy to support what we say. Now, most chatters do not bother with trying to present detailed documentation for arguments, and I know why, it takes time and work, and most of us who are on the computer are just basically relaxing and F-ing off. I am too, really. Once in a while though I actually do get on the web and do some research in response to a question I've been asked in the room. Here's where things get funky -- after I offer a lot more detailed evidence to support what I'm saying, the other party often has degenerated to the level of insult while declaring that my position cannot be logically supported because my evidence is all bad. Doesn't really matter what it is, if I pick an authority to go by, it's the wrong authority because it doesn't agree with theirs. Then there are the insults themselves, which indicate that the other side has stopped thinking about the issue, if they ever WERE thinking about it, and is only interested in destroying the opponent. I've seen people of very different persuasions do this over and over again. It gets old.

The internet in some ways is the greatest boon to communication the planet has ever seen, but for the very reasons that it has become the greatest resource of free speech, its anonymity and ease of access, it is also the worst form of communication ever devised. People all of a sudden face no consequences and no need to take responsibility for what they say over it. That makes it a free speech medium by default, but it also exposes some people for the horrible creatures they really are in their heart of hearts. No need to control those impulses, the basest desires get poured out over strangers with no reprisal available except retaliation in kind -- with more argument and insult, or worse, attempts at booting, which is why I use a chat client. There is just something about not seeing a person face to face, hearing their tone of voice, and typing characters that appear instantly and provoke reactions quickly, that leads to a profound disconnect in the communication process. In internet chat, if you are not on voice, you are relying on an information system with the speed of a conversation that is missing over 90 percent of normal conversational cues -- ALL of the nonverbal cues -- while the post you just released into society has as much as an hour of permanence on someone else's screen (or months or years if they log the chat.) You know in a face to face conversation, your words are gone as soon as they are uttered -- they are getting processed in the other person's brain, but they aren't afflicting his senses for the next five to 30 minutes as he mulls responses.

So, you have a few options to deal with chatters who disconnect emotionally and decide you are a suitable target of their wrath while they simultaneously try to cut you down to the size of a peanut and show you why only they can be right. I recommend using a chat client that is difficult to boot, because Yahoo chat has historically allowed boot codes. YahElite is what I use because it's free. Not a huge number of bells and whistles but it actually has quite a few features not found in Yahoo. I also recommend using the ignore feature. YahElite gives you the option of setting different times for chatters to remain in ignore, although I normally have that set to the maximum. This can have the unintended consequence of dumbing chat down, however, because if you feel cranky and overuse the feature you end up not getting any different opinions at all. So there is a balance you have to strike between comfort and having enough controversy to have a conversation.

You can't teach chatters to be polite, I've tried and that's a lost cause. You can lead by example, although I don't always, I can be just as mean as the rest of them. But whatever you do, if you find yourself so angry that you can't think because of the barrage of crap on your screen, use that ignore and use a clear screen command if your client doesn't drop chatter comments with ignore. They do work to lighten your mood and they also take away the incentive to retaliate in kind because "out of sight is out of mind."

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