The Internet Is Not Real Life

Hello Faithful Readers, and welcome to another month’s holding forth at Gothic Charm School. This month, the Lady of the Manners had intended to write a “back to school” sort of column, something for the swarms of gothlings toddling back to various institutions of learning. But! As usual, just when the Lady of the Manners thinks she has what she’s going to write all mapped out, something comes hurtling out of the black that she MUST write about, else her head will explode. So look for a “being goth and surviving school” topic in the near future.

So what topic is threatening to make the Lady of the Manners faint from the shock and annoyance of it all? Well, a kind of big one, actually. One that the Lady of the Manners wants ALL of you to pay close attention to, and to also make your various friends and acquaintances read this column (the Lady of the Manners would like to think you’re doing that anyway, but especially wants to make sure you do it this month). The topic?

The Internet is not real life. Not by a long shot.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the Lady of the Manners shouldn’t need to write a whole column about this idea. That it is so blindingly obvious a statement that no one would need to be reminded about the essential truth of it. Hah. What led the Lady of the Manners to the depressing realization that people needed to be reminded of this? A story recounted to her by a friend:

A friend of the Lady of the Manners (we’ll call her LadySpooky) was out one evening a local gothy club. LadySpooky thought she saw an acquaintance across the room, and walked over to exchange pleasantries. As she was waving and saying “Hi!” LadySpooky realized that this person wasn’t who she thought. Being a polite girl, LadySpooky introduced herself and held out her hand. The other person, starting to extend their hand for a handshake, asked “What”s your board name?” (referring to the local on-line goth community message board). “Oh, I’m not on the board,” replied LadySpooky. The other person PULLED BACK THEIR HAND AND WALKED AWAY.

(A small pause while the Lady of the Manners reins in her temper all over again.)

That, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, is INEXCUSABLE behavior. Just because someone isn’t part of your particular slice of Internet life is NO reason to walk away from them, ESPECIALLY when they’re trying to be friendly. At the very least, the person should have shaken hands, introduced themselves, said something about having to go find someone, and THEN walked away.

Allow the Lady of the Manners to repeat herself: The Internet is NOT real life. There are billions of reasons someone might not spend every waking minute on-line, including work, family, or having better things to do with their time.

“Better things to do with their time” — goodness, that’s a fine thing coming from someone who publishes their writings on the Internet, isn’t it? But the Lady of the Manners doesn’t feel she’s being hypocritical. Yes, there are all sorts of interesting things to be found on the Internet, and without it the worldwide goth subculture wouldn’t be anywhere near as strong or (in some cases) close-knit. But, like everything, the Internet is best in moderation. Is it vitally important that you only associate with people who post to the same boards as you? Or only people who have above X number of posts on those boards, have their pictures in the same web galleries, or are part of the same web rings as you? No, it isn’t. Sorry if the Lady of the Manners burst your little bubble there. In even just one year’s time, someone else will be more active in the on-line goth scene than yourself, will have more pictures of themselves out on the web, and might just snub you for not being as Internet-fixated as they are right then.

Now, in addition to the idea that the Internet isn’t real life, there’s another concept the Lady of the Manners wants you to keep firmly in the front of your brain: behave just like you’re talking with those people face to face. It’s very easy to forget there are real people with their own feelings, opinions, and reactions on the other side of your monitor — you’re just replying to a bunch of text on a screen, after all. The Lady of the Manners is reminding you not to forget. You shouldn’t say things in email (instant messenger, web boards, comments on people’s journals, so on) that you wouldn’t say to the person’s face. If everyone could manage this, the Internet would be a much, much better place.

The Lady of the Manners can already hear some of you sputtering “But, but, I DO try to do that! What about the people who respond with big stompy flames to everything I post?” Well, in the Lady of the Manners’ worldview, those people are known as jerks. Remember, snarklings, there will ALWAYS be people who like to be rude, condescending, and unkind, just because they think it’s funny (or because they claim that they only pick on the deserving, that they’re just teasing, that the target over-reacted, blah blah blah). If you end up dealing with someone like that, do not respond in kind, the Lady of the Manners begs of you. It won’t accomplish anything. You won’t get an apology, you won’t change their mind or behavior, and you’ll merely get yourself all worked up over someone who doesn’t deserve even a moment of your time. Ignore them. Don’t rise to the bait of any inflammatory comments or posts; heck, don’t even read any of their comments or posts if you can wield that sort of self-control. Gothic Miss Manners knows that it can be difficult — even she occasionally gives in to overwhelming temptation, reads something by someone she knows will just annoy her, and then ends up walking away from the computer so she doesn’t send a reply that will only start an argument. But half the battle is learning to recognize who is interested in having a discussion of differing opinions and who is just looking to start a fight. Avoid the latter as often as you can.

So, to hammer the key points home as a wrap-up:

1. The Internet is not real life.
2. But those are real people on the other side of the monitor, so behave appropriately.

See? Simple. Now be sure to come back next month, where the Lady of the Manners will most likely talk about surviving school life. Unless of course, one of you sends her a terribly interesting dilemma to write about instead, thus distracting her from her outline. You know the drill: send any questions, concerns, fan mail, or offers of presents to headmistress@gothic-charm-school.com.

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