Developing Some Rules

I’ve been online since I was about 16 – which is, fairly terrifyingly, half my life.
I’ve gone from being a girl emerging from the terribly angsty teenage phase to a gainfully employed adult with relationships and responsibilities that I’m (mostly) OK with owning and not running away from (though, if someone could speak to the management company of my building for me…)

And in that time the internet has gone from being a place that I had to go to a computer and dial into to something that is pretty permanently in the palm of my hand. From somewhere where almost no one I knew in my physical world was socially active online to somewhere everone is. And from being a place where I go to connect, play and let off steam, to being a place where I go to connect, play, think, and work – and from time to time, let off steam.

So now I find myself having to build some guidelines into my life for how I let off steam online.

(I like to let off steam. As a kid I had a terrible temper, which I’ve learnt to control and, at times, to channel, but I’ve also learnt that I need to let things out, and that often writing it down in a paper diary that no one else reads is not a way of doing that – often it needs to be heard, and sometimes, heard and challenged. I was never a particularly massive phone-caller, and I got online before I got a mobile phone, so I’ve never gone in for epically long text conversations. For me, that space has almost always been online)

My earliest livejournal was like an online version of my paper journal, combined with the ability to share my frustrations with my friends who weren’t in the physical neighbourhood for tea and a rant/chat. The situations I got frustrated with and the people in them weren’t online and weren’t ever going to know. Now everyone’s on facebook and twitter, and my blog links to both. Where my blog was once an outlet for frustration, diary style, now it’s a curated space – a collection of thoughts, responses and reflections – and while there may be a place for some steam releasing, it’s usually about broader or more general topics, hopefully well-mediated by personal reflection, rather than an expression of immediate, specific frustrations. Twitter, which was once able to provide that space, because it was full of close friends and new connections who generally weren’t in my working world, no longer can, because the nature of my feed has shifted over the past year or so. Also, I’m no longer 16, and I now both understand and care that sounding off about daily frustrations has consequences, and that it should have consequences.

So. I’ve been slowly evolving some guidelines for myself. Which, you know, I fail on quite a lot, but I’m trying.

(1) Don’t say something you wouldn’t say to someone’s face or aren’t prepared to follow up.
This isn’t a licence to say obnxiously rude things to somone on the internet on the grounds that you’d yell it at them in the street, because manners and human decency. Nor is it a requirement that, say you don’t – for example – @someone on twitter if you have a criticism. Critique is totally valid, and if someone is offering up their work and promoting it online (yes, that is what all those comedians on twitter are doing) then you can legitimately criticise it. It’d be nice if you could follow up your initial comment in a conversation if one emerges. Additionally, take those things onboard for yourself when writing and putting something up online – both the willingness to be challenged, and the knowledge that it’s ok to let go of the criticisms of people who shout and abuse, and pay more attention to those who can have an intelligence conversation.

(2) You do have responsibilities to people – to your friends if your frustration is with your daily life, to the people who employ you, endorse you and help give you some kind of voice or platform, if it’s in work or tangental to work. Don’t be an arse about it, but don’t let it completely own you.

No, it’s not simple. I deliberately try to avoid mentioning the name of my workplace online, in an ‘I work at X’ way – even though I know it’s not hard for someone to work it out if they follow me around enough. Still, at least it means I don’t feel like I’m claiming to speak for them, or doing that thing where you give yourself a status boost by claiming working for them and claiming that your opinions are your own (you just can’t have it both ways, you know, I’m sorry).

Be positive if you want to be positive about people and things, it’s nice. Maybe don’t over-egg it and become a hawker or a stalker. But if you’re lucky enough to have a job you really like that gives you fun things to do, talk about it.

Criticise if you feel it’s important that a critique be given, but try not to be specific and call people out if you work with them, or with or for people who work with them – make it more general and tap into the bigger issue instead, because that’s the thing that’s really frustrating. You can take on the specifics in private, if you’re fortunate enough to work somewhere where you get listened to, or in a follow up conversation if one happens to emerge (consider yourself lucky if it’s sensible…). This one’s harder. I have to make myself think before I tweet; ask myself how identifiable the thing I’m raging at is, who might get hurt by it or in trouble because of it, other than me, and if it’s worth it (one day, it might be), and then hit send.

And, that’s about it. Any other tips?

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