Some Thoughts About the Internet and Blog Debates

It’s my personal conviction that the Internet divides as much as it unites. Sadly, it divides even those who agree on many or even most things. Why? Because the Internet fosters debate. No matter how much you share in common with a person, you quickly come to find the one, two or three things you can’t agree on. Then those few things quickly grow out of proportion, and before you know it you’ve forgotten that you had anything important in common.

I’ve spent a couple years wandering around the ‘net looking for conversation and kindred spirits. It’s not for lack of like-minded family and friends. It’s just that your personal friends aren’t always available to chat about this, that or the other thing. (In fact, my personal closest friends have such hectic schedules that we only connect about once every month or so.) So in a weird way, Internet “friends” can come to feel more accessible than your real friends. But because of the phenomenon I’ve just described, you learn by experience to hold these new-found “kindred spirits” lightly. Because you feel compelled to talk about everything, and sooner or later you disagree, and those disagreements magnify until you can’t stand each other and part ways.

I’ve encountered this with all kinds of people in all kinds of contexts. I’ve tried to “fit in” around various web communities, only to discover I don’t really belong, for one reason or another. Every time I think “Finally, somebody like me!” I come to discover, “Oh snap… not really, and in fact, they don’t like me.”

But listen, here’s a little tip I’ve discovered, and once it finally dawned on me it was a very freeing thought: Let it go. Here’s how that manifests itself concretely for me: When I’ve opened my big mouth and gotten entangled in something somewhere on the ‘net, and gotten someone or a few someones annoyed or impatient or mad at me… I simply leave the thread behind me. I make a final comment, and then I DON’T GO BACK. Because I know that if I sneak a peek to see how people are responding, I won’t be able to resist the temptation to jump right back into the mess and keep wasting my time with people who’ll never be convinced by me anyway.

So instead… I let it go. The other day, I was trying to analyze the feeling of freedom that it gives me to take this approach, because it seemed familiar to me. Then I thought of an analogy. Occasionally when I’m driving, I’ll do something that makes another driver mad at me. I’ll turn in front of somebody when I thought I’d checked and it was clear. I’ll make my move when someone else technically had right of way. Or maybe it’s not my fault. Maybe it’s the other guy’s fault, and he honks his horn at me just because he’s a jerk.

But then (at least assuming I haven’t broken the law or anything), I keep driving. I move on. I leave the angry dude or dudette behind me and continue going about my life. Because I know it doesn’t matter, nobody can do anything to me, and there aren’t any consequences.

I thought of another analogy. Sometimes I do stupid things in my dreams. And of course when you’re dreaming, you often don’t realize you’re dreaming. But when you wake up, you think, “Wait a minute… that was just a dream! It didn’t matter! I don’t have anything to worry about after all!”

Blog debates are like that. Unless you already know somebody very well, and a precious relationship is being thrown away, there’s really not much at stake. You don’t really know these people, and they don’t really know you. So give up trying to argue with them. If they decide they don’t want to be your “friend” anymore, that’s their choice. In the meantime… you still have real friends, and a life to live. A real life.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Some Thoughts About the Internet and Blog Debates

  1. quartet-man

    I suspect that even your close friends in real life don’t agree with you on everything. Perhaps the topics just don’t come up. Nonetheless, the “secret” is to state your case, listen to theirs, agree to disagree and move on. You might change their minds or maybe not. They might give you something to consider, or maybe not. But you can’t force someone to your way of thinking or beat them over the head with it thinking they will eventually succumb. Once you have done your best to state it, you just have to let it go. I used to keep on and on thinking I could get them to finally see it, but there comes a point where you’ve done all you can and have to just let go and brush the proverbial dust off of your feet.

    Good debate is enriching. It can strengthen and sharpen one’s beliefs and sometimes even change them. It is best to keep things from getting heated or personal, but that doesn’t always happen. People are often passionate about their beliefs and it is easy for things to get out of hand. That is where discipline comes in. The internet does give some degree of anonymity and people at times will say things because of this, but I know I am accountable to someone who knows and sees it all.

    • Yeah, I agree with your first point. I know my “real” friends and I don’t agree on everything. But it’s different because a) we don’t zero in on just those topics when we’re together and b) we actually know and love each other, so the relationship has a firm foundation to start with.

      Learning you can’t change people’s minds… oh believe me, I’ve learned. And I’ve paid in full for the times when I was foolish.

      • And also, I think that after a while, you gain enough experience to know that if you truly value a close friendship, it’s not worth it to launch a debate on some point where you know there’s a difference of opinion. But in an online context, where you don’t REALLY know a person, it’s tempting to be splashier and bolder. But even there, prudence is best.

  2. Lydia

    And also, in a blog context, what is there to do together *but* talk? That’s what we’re there for, right? It’s not like you can sing together on a blog, or play golf, or have a meal. The whole (forgive me the slight descent into jargon) incarnational aspect of in-person friendships severely limits activities, so the focus is entirely on discussion, which naturally leads to finding out everybody’s opinions.

  3. Lydia

    Sorry, that last sentence was badly written. I meant to say that the incarnational aspect of in-person friendships is *missing* on blogs, which severely limits activities.

    • Yeah, exactly. That’s what I was trying to get at. Your activities are severely constrained by the medium. And I personally find it much more comfortable to interact with someone face to face, because words on a page don’t really show me the PERSON.

      • quartet-man

        Pretty much online you are judged by your words and your words only. Words which are typed can be misunderstood and tone not always evident. Sometimes you can tell by the written word the tone that was intended, but other times people have their preconceived notions or ready more into the words than what was intended. They then think they know that person when they might not.

        Don’t get me wrong, if someone for instance cusses at your a lot and calls you name (especially in caps) you can probably assuming they aren’t kidding you like a friend might when they call you an idiot or something in a light-hearted and playful way when you act silly or do an air-headed thing. Other times though you can say “doing such and such is wrong and the Bible says you are doomed to hell if you don’t repent.” Now, you might just be passing along the info in love as a warning, but the reader might think you are trying to judge or have hate in your heart or that you think you are perfect when none of that is true. Sometimes context can help in how this is received and sometimes if the person has known you over a long period they can better understand your motivations and tone, but not always.

        Even in real life there are a few of us men in choir who zing each other. This goes back to before I was the director. My predecessor once told a guy and I who had been close friends for well over a decade at that point that we had to wait two weeks after a new choir member joined before we did that to each other because new people thought we were mad and hated each other when we were just picking on each other. So, even in person things can be misconstrued, but the written word is even harder because they can’t hear your tone, see your facial expressions, body language etc.

      • LOL, that makes me think of George and J. D. :)

      • quartet-man

        Good comparison.

  4. mattpaasch

    Don’t forget that blogs are often used to express an opinion that people often feel that they need to let known. This can be good, or bad. Some do it for shock value, and there are many that post without thinking. That’s how facebook (and other social media sites) can often become very hurtful and damaging.

    A blog is a ‘tool’… can be used for good or bad. Just remember, the tongue is the worse!

  5. Lydia

    Oh, I just thought of something else: In my experience it’s *even more* important to let the blog thread go if a precious relationship is possibly going to be thrown away. Definitely. If the person is either a really close Internet friend or (even more) an in-person friend, try to let him have the last word. One of the most humbling things I’ve noticed is other people doing this to me. It’s coals of fire, man. I’ll think, “Ol’ so-and-so didn’t answer me there, did he? Dag-nab it, I’ll bet that’s because he’s just being nice. He’s letting me have the last word. Of course I didn’t actually convince him. He’s just letting the pushy woman have the last word. Harrumph.” Much better to be the one actually letting the other guy have the last word. And it’s even better if you don’t *say* you’re going to bow out. Just let your friend say the last thing. It’s incredibly rare that your friend will write e-mail to you and say, “Hey, I noticed you didn’t answer my last telling comment on our debate. Does that mean you were convinced?” In fact, I don’t think it’s ever happened to me. No, he’ll probably think just what I did. “Hmmph. She’s just letting it drop. Well, hmmph, okay.” But it’s better than arguing it to the death.

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