I have noticed a tendency in people’s online communication and I’m not quite sure is whether it’s sincere or performative. I’m also not quite sure that if in 2018, it’s possible to completely detangle those sensibilities from online writing, anyway. But for the sake of simplicity (but also owing to the tenacious calamity of optimism that has infected me for the majority of my conscious life), I am going to assume it’s at least mostly sincere and evaluate it as such.
I’m referring to an expressed preliminary sensitivity over other people’s communication habits and tics. While this is all subjective, the tics and habits that people are taking exception to could reasonably be considered lacking ill intent or straight-up benign. (I’m not talking about discursive malignancy like hate speech, which I think is reasonable to reject early in every context.) This sensitivity manifests in a sort of dictation of orders across apps and websites. I see it a lot on Grindr: “Don’t say ‘sup.’” “Don’t call me ‘bro.’” “Don’t greet me with, ‘Hey.’” It’s also popular in the think-piece scene and on Twitter, as people rush to tell other people why they are wrong before the ideas can even form in their brains. You’re talking about it wrong, says someone who’s willing to portray themselves as even more self-righteous than you are.
(At some point in the process of social media’s evolution from novelty to the just way things are, adopting the persona of a scold became cool or at least aspirational. I find this curious as well. It has created a culture where one’s relevance can be dependent on out-barking the next person, from what I can tell. This is none of my business, really, and not quite germane to my argument, I just thought you should think about that, too.)
I’m not interested in calling out individuals and works that are guilty of what I’m describing (even though I’m sure they don’t feel guilty). It’s something that I’ve observed with enough regularity to suggest that it is “a thing,” but truth be told, I don’t have actual data on how prevalent it is. It might be a sporadic occurrence and my feeds have just happened to uniquely aggregate into my own solipsistic hell. Pretty sure that’s not the case, but what do I know?
I’m not sure where rules of right and wrong are being recorded, but it seems like the person who gets there first is the one who gets to write them, until the next person takes the podium and argues their case more persuasively. I’m not sure why one’s person distaste should trump another person’s proclivity, and I’m not sure where anyone gets off telling someone to avoid doing what they are inclined, but I’m less interested in the philosophical here than the practical.
That is why I am suggesting to just let people be who they are without interference. It may irk you for a second but it will save you time in the long run.
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like other people who construct their greetings in a way that bespeaks performative masculinity (“Sup”), for example, it behooves you to let those people say “Sup” to you so you know to avoid them. If you think people are talking about something wrong, let them do it and show that you’re right with your brilliant think prose. You can’t believe people the first time if you don’t let them show you who they are.
But doesn’t this run counter to the cultural imperative that we all just get along? Well, we’re not going to anyway. And you win fewer friends with scolding than salad, even. More broadly, you can’t know everybody, and if you’re on an app (including Twitter), I’m sure you don’t want to, either, if you have any sense. Let people do the work for you and filter themselves right out with their asininity.
I can’t imagine having the nerve to ask a stranger to abandon their petty inclinations for my sake. That seems on the same scale of self-entitlement as telling someone who isn’t smiling to smile. I’m not exactly sure why people do these things. Perhaps at some point, I will conduct an informal poll on dating apps. Until the day I have hard data in my cold, lizard claws, I will continue to suspect that there are two primary factors that contribute to the policing I describe here.
One is the seemingly widely held belief that people deserve to be comfortable at all times. I understand the general idea in terms of physical and mental safety, but I think there must be limits given the varying comfort levels and facilitators within our species. If you are uncomfortable being spoken to in some non-hateful way that someone feels comfortable using, whose obligation is it to defer to whom? If an idea makes you uncomfortable, well, who’s to say that you haven’t gotten too comfortable in your own little bubble? Personally, I don’t mind being uncomfortable. Leaving the womb was uncomfortable and it’s only been downhill from there. I’ve gotten used to it. Perhaps at this point, I’m comfortable being uncomfortable. I can’t be the only one.
The second reason I think people do this is power. They want to eradicate the turn of phrase they hate before it can happen, and when that works, there’s probably some kind of dopamine spike involved in the total reward. People do know that power is largely an illusion, though, right? How could anyone assess the chaos that is our world and think, “This would look so good with a harness on?”
I wonder if the ultimate result of this preliminary sensitivity is to effectively suppress people’s true selves. I have a hard time believing that anyone would really change their essence based on what some avatar text-barked to them. That thing that person isn’t supposed to have an opinion about? They still have that opinion—the only difference now is that by not speaking it, they’re denying you key data and insight into just how shitty they potentially are.
I beckon you in this new year to accept people for what they are. This doesn’t have to be the benevolent act of charity and goodwill it’s often made out to be; it can be a way of shadily clocking some asshole, taking inventory on what to avoid. Mind you, this is just a suggestion, not a demand—if I made one of those in this space, I’d be a hypocrite. I could not with a straight face tell you to stop saying “stop,” even though I really think that you should do just that.