Think for a moment about who you are — specifically, your relationships with your co-workers, your friends, and your family. Are you kind? Are you patient? When topics are brought up in conversations in Church or elsewhere, and you disagree, do you get angry? Are you condescending or sanctimonious? My guess is that you’re probably like most mormons — respectful of differing viewpoints, kind and patient to family and friends, and gracious to strangers and guests as they pop into your life.
Now think about who you are in the Bloggernacle.
What is your online persona compared to your ‘real-life’ personality? Are you more patient online? Do you talk down to people? Do you extend to strangers and guests the hospitality and warmth that you offer in ‘real life’?
My observation (and it’s just my personal observation, YMMV) is that personalities become more extreme on the Internet, and that the Bloggernacle is not immune to these tendencies. Take, for example, the recent responses to T&S’ guest, Armand Mauss. Would any of us have spoken to him as pointedly and harshly in person as some have acted here? Or, on the other end, would we have been as accepting in person as some others have been? I’m saying that when we blog, we find ourselves being led to extremes of harshness and to extremes of patience (and perhaps apathy) that diverge from our real-world personalities.
What causes us to become different people on the internet? I’m indebted to John Suler of Rider University and his site on “cyberpsychology”. According to him, an online disinhibition effect occurs from the anonymity and dissociative qualities of the Internet, causing a distorted sense of self-boundaries. As Wiki puts it, “Our anonymous and faceless online culture deprives us of the natural checks and cues that make in-person communication much more stable. Deprived of inhibitions, our depraved needs often dangle out for all to see. Our evolutionary legacy of tact and etiquette stumbles at the doorstep to the Information Age.”
I am not one to cast the first stone here. I feel like the Bloggernacle has made me more sensitive, more accepting of others, and more compassionate than I’ve ever been. My work at BCC has definitely been positive thus far, and it makes me really glad to have found so many good, kind and smart mormons out there. But at the same time, I find myself acting more bitterly, more snarky and more rashly than I ever have. Do you feel the same?
Ultimately, this is a call to let the Bloggernacle work on us to make us more humble, more kind and more understanding. This may go against desires to be a self-aggrandizing pseudo-intellectual, but so be it. If we let the artificial structure of the Internet dictate harsh and condescending behavior, we are taking ourselves our step further away from seeing others as we are seen.