How We Speak On The Internet Matters

Catching Snowflakes on Tongue

Yesterday, Will Hindmarch — a writer, game designer and thinker I respect dearly — said something smart on Twitter (which for him is not uncommon). He said, “I think how you write something makes a difference, especially when you’re doling out writing and creative advice.”

This is somewhat perpendicular to another meme that’s going around, which is a question over the value of negativity on these here frothy Intertubes. Lots of questions abound: can critique find a healthy place on the Internet? Is there any value to negative reviews? Should negative reviews be constructive instead of destructive? Should we build up and not tear down? Should we be, as the saying goes, a fountain, not a drain? (Related reading: “Don’t You Like Anything?” At the Seven Keys of Ventoozlar.)

I say these two points are perpendicular because I think they hit an intersection point. (They hit this intersection point after dodging all the rampant pornography, Justin Bieber fan pages, Justin Bieber hate pages, political rhetoric, and funny YouTube videos where some skateboarder accidentally skateboards his way into the whirring turbine of a 747 airliner — this is, after all, the Internet and the Internet is home to 90% Alice In Wonderland-style nonsense and madness and maybe 10% of sane, semi-rational discourse.)

The intersection of those two ideas, for me, really ends up with: how we speak on the Internet matters.

It matters when you’re talking about writing or game design advice.

It matters when you’re offering critique or review.

It matters when you’re writing dumb-ass crazy person blog posts like I do, here.

It matters on Twitter. It matters on Facebook. It just plain matters.

At first I was going to say that all this remains especially true for creators: after all, our value is in what we create, and we can only give the world our creations if the world wants them, and the world may not want our shit if they think we’re just a gaggle of blustery fuckwipes. (“Blustery Fuckwipes” is not the name of my band, my album, my first novel, or my autobiography. It is the name of my pet ferret, who wears goggles and an aviator’s hat. “Blustery Fuckwipes,” I say, “Take us to to Mach Speed so that we may catch the Chartreuse Baron in his Sopwith Ultra-Thousand!” No, I don’t know. Shut up.) But it’s not just true for us. It’s true for everybody. Everybody is selling something. Everybody is looking for work. For friends. For loved ones. For something. And how we speak on the Internet has an effect on all of that.

In this day and age, the Internet isn’t just a reasonable facsimile of real life but rather, a substitute for it. People spend as much time online as they do off of it, and while that merits a whole other discussion, it doesn’t change the reality that a great deal of our social discourse is here. It’s not outside our doors. It’s on our computer monitors. The people online aren’t avatars or characters. They’re actual human beings like the same blubbery skin-bags you see at the grocery store or the malt shoppe or the dildo emporium.

Now, I think the knee-jerk response to this revelation is a kind of paranoid uncertainty (which I’ve felt keenly in the past) — “I shouldn’t present a strong opinion because then I’ll make people mad.” But that’s not it, either. Because our opinions are important. Whether it’s about a movie we saw or about labor unions or abortion or the publishing industry or whatever, our opinions frame us and tell the world who we are.

So no, I don’t think we should be afraid of critique or review, nor do I think we should be afraid of having opinions or giving advice. I just think that how we convey that matters. The message matters most, but what that message purports to be — what supposed truth it delivers — can’t matter if it’s poorly put forth.

Here’s an example, then, of how it matters:

Yesterday, Colleen Lindsay called me and said that she wanted to talk to me about taking a look at her Sekrit Projekt. She said, right off the bat, that she wanted to connect with me because she thought that I was funny and fairly upbeat and — well, wasn’t a constant wearer of Internet Cranky Pants. Now, I’ll grant that some of you might be furrowing your brow — after all, I’m the guy who says things like Why Your Self-Published Book Might Suck A Bag Of Dicks. Or, PC Gaming Can Punch A Baby Seal. I’m not Doctor Thumbs-Up over here. I’m not Joe Smileynuts. That being said, I do endeavor to put forth a certain attitude in even my most extreme rhetoric — an attitude that aims to be self-deprecating, imperfect, funny, and that allows room for me to be the wrong-headed asshole. I have strong opinions, but I do not try to present those strong opinions as if they are also bulletproof. Do I misstep? Sure. I strive to do better.

Anyway. Them’s my Saturday morning rambles. For a long time I kind of worried that strong opinions were the concern, but I’m coming to terms that having opinions isn’t the problem, but rather, it’s how we give those opinions out. We can pitch them at people’s heads like frozen shit-balls, or we can make some effort to deliver them so that they don’t put out somebody’s eye in the process.

This is all of course provided your opinion isn’t, “I like to stomp babies” or “I loathe Algerians and I think we should institute a pogrom.” Some opinions won’t hold water no matter how nicely you frame them.

(To go back to the beginning, I assume that Will was referring in some way to this post that asserts that game designers are somehow playtesting incorrectly, as if such a thing were possible. I read that article and to me, it’s very much an example of what I’m talking about. It felt pedantic and cranky. I found a few snidbits of wisdom in there, but I had to read it a couple times just to get past the bad attitude. It’s like hiding pretty little pearls in a bucket filled with thorns and snakes. Don’t make me reach in there to find your wisdom because that does nothing to earn anybody’s respect.)