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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unfollow/Unfriend: Online relationships and the written word.

I haven't written a serious post for a while, but over the last couple of days I've had some run ins with another NCIS fan that have given me pause to think. I'm part of a large community of fans of Twitter, and while I know that there are other much more volatile fan forums, serious use of the #NCIS stream is not for the faint of heart. Scattered among the "this episode is awesome" tweets and the "Mark Harmon is hot for an old guy" tweets, there is some serious discussion about character development, plot lines and the people who create them. The discussion gets hot, sometimes hotter than the 140 character porn slash that also shows up in the stream.

In some ways, it amazes me that people get so fired up over a TV show, especially one on its 8th season, but that is the beast that is NCIS. It changed from a straight crime drama to something more along the lines of a dark comedy--more kin to Monk than to its JAG roots. The change has not gone unnoticed. It hit a chord with millions of Americans and is still the number one scripted show as the crowds flocked to 8 pm Tuesday nights (or as I dubbed it on Twitter, #NCIS Day). Not everyone is happy with the change.

Becoming a dark comedy meant changing the characters. Character growth is natural, but some of them grew in ways that some of the original fans didn't like and they will let you know their feelings on the subject. That is really the point of my blog today. Dealing with those fans.

For the most part, I enjoy chatting online with my Tweeps. The conversations are usually fluff, but we do share the ups and downs of our days and we care about one another. Many of us at this point have met IRL (in real life), still others have snail mailed packages, bought and sold art/crafts, and have genuinely established relationships with one another. We've invested time and emotions into one another's lives. It's an investment that those not online may not understand, but it's no less an investment in a relationship than that of a coworker or a friend on a ball team. So, when one of the voices becomes difficult to hear, what does one do?

In my IRL experience, I have learned to overlook character traits that bother me whenever possible. I can even say that I have learned to love people not in spite of their flaws, but including their flaws (I am not perfect at this, but I've come a long way.) IRL, we have the benefit of face-to-face interaction, one-on-one time. We are more than just what we say.

Online, especially on Twitter, we are only what we say. Good or bad, we are limited to 140 character soundbites which may or may not be interpreted how we intended. Something we write, thinking we sound clever, may come across as snarky and cause a problem where none existed. Or, because of the casual anonymity of online communication, we may throw something out there that we would never say to someone face to face. We forget that we are speaking with real people with real feelings. We forget to show some respect and common courtesy and start a flame war.

If we are what we write when we are online, we should probably be more careful about what we say and how we say it. Certainly we have the right to express our opinions and carry on lively debate, but when the discussion is reduced to a steady stream of our opinion that is who we become. We are our opinion. We become less the person behind the words. We become the words. Words, on Twitter, you can filter out. We can stop following. We can use the filter tools on Tweetdeck. We can make the words stop.

But there are people behind the words.

There's the rub. There are words that I'm tired of reading. Last night I filtered and then unfollowed some of the words. The problem is, there are people behind those words in whom I have invested time, with whom I have a connection. It's easy to unfollow. Its harder to unfriend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey there, it's Lillian. Online friendships are really strange. I had one person create a sock puppet on a board specifically to attack people, me included, who proved his/her point that I was a nasty person by pointing out I had no "friends" (you can friend people in this forum). Some people take that very seriously. I can sometimes take it personally if someone unfriends or unfollows me.

People feel freer to say what they really want to say in person in the anonymity of the internet, it can be rather liberating in some ways. But sometimes I wonder about people. I see certain usernames and I just know what's going to follow when I open their post.

A few years ago I was lamenting the fact that someone I considered a good friend - she offered me a kidney - cut me off with no explanation. I was extremely hurt. One person said something that I quoted in my profile page.

Ahh LJ, the only place where your social relationships come with on/off buttons.

It's so easy to hurt people this way. After all, you don't really know them or see them.