Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Perils of Familiarity

Events this week have damaged my faith in human nature...

I've learned a big lesson this week...and a very painful one it is too. Spending so much time in the virtual company of others can lead you to imagine that people actually like you, largely because you can easily allow yourself to like them - even though they don't know you and you actually don't know anything about them in real life.

When you think you are in the company of people who like you, you relax and feel easier about speaking - so you post in almost a "conversational" way. This can be tricky without so many of the cues you get when having a real conversation (expression, tone of voice, gestures, etc.)

Similarly when you think you know someone you change how you talk to, or about them and you might even begin to take liberties with them; joking with them or about them and, in doing so, testing the limits of their tolerance without really knowing if you are crossing a line.
The feedback you get on-line is very limited; with "smileys" used a lot to add additional meaning to written words, which in themselves can often be read in various ways.

Another aspect of this is how other people view that feedback - because in the same way that the author has to interpret the feedback, other people apply their own intepretation to the feedback too. This can lead to wildly divergent opinions on the nature of an author and their posts.

So, when some people misinterpret some things you have posted in a big way, one of the ways you might get to find out is via a private message. In fact, unless someone has the stones to contact you about it you might be blissfully unaware of it all forever.

One can never claim total innocence in such a situation because the original posts are, of course, open to misinterpretation - no matter how well written they are. Once a misunderstanding has occurred, however, a lot depends on whether or not those who have reached the wrong conclusion are prepared to be receptive to an alternative intepretation.

Unfortunately, pointing out what you see as the misunderstandings may have precisely zero effect on their position - you are judged purely on the ropey evidence of two-dimensional feedback. The more you try to explain, the worse things can get and you can go from just misunderstood to misunderstood and annoying. In the end it can become a definite case of "their way or the highway" so, in the end all you can do (if you want to stick around and try to rebuild the illusion of being liked) is give in and apologise.

After such a run-in, one can never be as free as one was and this may be a good thing in disuguise...after all, letting one's guard down when there are people so willing to think the worst is probably not a wise thing to do.

It's still a shame though...