Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It IS real.

So there's so much I want to do that doesn't get done.  Posts not written, work not done.  Things pile up literally and figuratively.  But this, this I just have to respond to.

Someone elsewhere, I'm not saying where because I'm not looking to respond to the person but rather the sentiment, talked about the difference between real life and the internet and how ze, basically, felt entitled to be much more of an ass on the internet, and enjoy it, based on the fact that "it's not really...real."

This is wrong.  This matters.

This is what BT gets wrong and Mimiru gets right and why BT will do awful things on purpose with no sense of guilt where Mimiru never would and if I can push myself to keep doing .hack posts I swear we'll get to it someday but sometimes it's a struggle just to move so the posts end up slow to come and erratic.

But this isn't a post about fiction, it's a post about real life.  Real life is full of real people.  And what is done to real people is real.

That's it.  If you're doing something to real people it is really real.  It doesn't matter if it's in person, or over the phone, or via physical mail, or email, or in a chatroom, or on a forum, or on a blog, or over the radio, or on TV, or via legislation.  None of that makes the slightest bit of difference.  What you do to real people is real.

This is something that some people don't seem to understand.  The internet is not single player.  Those other users, with the exception of spambots, they're real people.  They're not NPCs cooked up for your amusement.  They're real.  And everything you do to them is real.

It IS real.

Now at this point a certain segment of the population will come at things with a, "But it's just words, words can't hurt," argument.  Words can hurt.  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can cut much deeper.  Or, in the words of some poet or other*, "No iron spike can pierce a human heart as icily as a period in the right place."  Or a slur in the wrong place.  Or a campaign of harassment, or piles of verbal abuse.  Words matter.

Words have rescued people from despair and driven others to suicide.  Words have the power to inspire or disillusion, they can build you up or break you down.  They can bring back memories, they can trigger physical responses, they can change people, they can change the world.

And words sent over the internet to other people are just as real as words spoken to those same people in real life.  They are not the same, there is an entirely different quality to the two forms of communication as anyone who has had both experiences can attest to, but they do not differ in their realness.

It's still an interaction between you, whom I presume is a real person, and a real person.  That makes it real.

It's the same rule with phones, just because you can neither see nor smell the other end of the line, doesn't mean you are morally justified in pretending they aren't real and acting as if nothing you say matters.  If you want to use a phone for morally unfettered speaking, call an automated system**, not a real person.

If you want to use a computer for morally unfettered action that isn't really real, that's what single player is for.  But as soon as you as you start interacting with other real life people it is real.

Why this is so hard for some people to understand, I have no idea.


* Isaak Babel, I'm told.

** The time and temperature automation (or whatever automation you first think of) isn't going to be effected by what you say to it.


  1. I think it's hard for people to understand because of basic humanity. The issue is that some people can't get out of the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. Basically, it's not that people have decided that they're going to treat someone as if they're not real, they unconsciously assume that because the person that they're interacting with is not hitting their checklist for "real people", i.e., I can see you, I can hear you, I know the color of your hair, I know your ethnicity, etc.

    1. Object permanence (learning that things that are out of sight still exist and are still real) is a milestone that most people reach in infancy.

    2. And yet... so many people on the internet seem not to have reached it yet.

    3. Mmm. I think it's not so much "object permanence" as "theory of mind."

  2. Very well said.

    Words (or actions, for that matter) can be stupid things you didn't really mean, and will hopefully be able to take back as much as possible. But that in no way makes them not "real."

  3. Dear Chris-

    I enjoy your stuff. But you REALLY took me out of context, homes. I wasn't referring to everything on the internet, or even most of the internet. Or, as you seem to be implying, all written communication. I've learned and grown too much from things that other people have said on the internet (including you and Lonespark, to name two proximate people) to think that.

    I was referring to one specific situation-namely, people on this one website didn't like the way people on this other website did their business and those people didn't like the way the other people did their business.

    Essentially the whole thing was two sorta separate group of commentators, neither one of whom wanted to join the others, complaining about how the other group was doing their thing, and the consensus has been, from both sides..."we're gonna keep on chooglin'." (No, I don't want to go into details. Most of the people here already know of what I speak.)

    Yes, my choice of words was extremely poor. And I'm glad in a way that it gave you a jumping off point for something this good. But please don't think I was dismissing all internet communication- just one particular situation that I saw as something of a tempest in a teapot, which assessment I don't particularly agree with myself anymore.

    1. Cary, I like you most of the time, but you do have a way of making things all about you that grates on me a lot.

      The reason for the lack of pointing to you is that this wasn't about you, a lot of people say more or less exactly what you said in a lot of situations, but since you did bring up the specifics.

      I was referring to one specific situation-namely, people on this one website didn't like the way people on this other website did their business and those people didn't like the way the other people did their business.

      That's not actually true. Specifically the, "and those people didn't like the way the other people did their business," at the end. There has yet to be a, "Lets all complain about Slacktivist thread at The Slacktiverse. So it wasn't exactly going both ways.


      Essentially the whole thing was two sorta separate group of commentators, neither one of whom wanted to join the others

      "Sorta separate" is a massive understatement. A detailed accounting of the overlap would take ages and I have no interest in that, so I'm going to take the easy way out.

      The first slacktiverse mod that I can find (hapax) is a regular commenter at Slacktivist. Not seperate but a member of the community.

      Disqus gives a list of the top five most active members at Slacktivist, one of those members is part of The Slacktiverse. It also gives a list of the top five most liked commenters at Slacktivist, one of those members is a member of the Slacktiverse. There are only six names between the two lists, one third of those names are members of both communities.

      The people you bring up here, Lonespark and myself, both members of both places.

      What you walked into wasn't two groups slagging on each other, nor was it an ingroup slagging on an outgroup. It was an group going after another group knowing full well that in doing so it was going after a non-negligible minority of its own members due to the significant overlap between the two groups.

      And what you said, upon recognizing the situation, was:

      I haven't had this much fun since Personal Failure went after you guys.


      I'm not asking you to feel bad about it. I'm not asking you to change your ways. But don't misrepresent what happened.

  4. Came over from your comments on my blog, and yes. This. A thousand times yes.

  5. Thank you for this. I remain astonished at how easy and often people who "know better" are breathtakingly cruel on the internet, and I *do* think it's a sort of "NPC mentality" where the people at the other end aren't *people* so much as interacting robots. I don't think this is a conscious thing, but I do think it's something that is very easy to slip into and something we have to consciously fight against.

  6. I hope no one else takes this as a sign of disrespect toward them, because I mean it as nothing of the sort and both respect and appreciate all of my commenters, but...

    hapax and Ana commented on my post! Wahoo!

  7. I think that some of the problem is a perception that Internet-talk "doesn't matter" - it may be communication with real people, but it's not important because it's only through a computer rather than face-to-face or over a phone or letter. That this is false is trivial to demonstrate: take someone who argues in this way, and say to him (yes, almost always him) something mildly unfavourable about the latest fanboy-favourite superhero film or SF TV series.

  8. I'm somewhat surprised that this is still a problem for enough people that it requires posting, especially when we have more than enough examples of the reality that we have a name for when it goes too far - cyberbullying.

    Them again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised, as I work I'm a customer service job, and sometimes the people on the other end of that treat you like you're not a real person, either.

    I wonder if there's been a study as to why we tend to depersonalize interactions that aren't face to face.