Sue and Greg were driving past Fort Wayne on a trip from Ottawa to Indianapolis. Sue mentioned on Twitter that they were stopping to see us. A person Sue has seen face-to-face and I have interacted with online said to greet us.
I saw the tweet.
A private directive was spoken in public. I reminded our mutual friend that I could see. No harm done.
A group of friends wrote on each other’s Facebook pages about the great time they were having together, about how much they valued their mutual relationship, their adventures together. Encouraging private words were spoken in public. People who were part of a larger group but not included in the adventures of the smaller group felt slighted. Some harm done.
A person tweeted an observation about work. Another person felt offended and removed the anonymity of the situation that the writer had intended. The interaction was more personal on one side than necessary.
I’ve been thinking a lot about whether we would say the things we say online if we were actually standing in a room with 100 other people, or 1000. People we know, people we don’t. Would we holler across the room at people about something they say that we don’t like? Or would we instead go to them, ask them if we could chat, and step to the side of the room, or out in the hallway? Would we have conversation, would we look for context and clarity? Would we talk about our great time together that others didn’t share in by shouting to everyone, or would we go off to the side to talk?
When we say things in tweets or Facebook comments or Instagram comments, we are in a room with all of our friends and all of their friends. We are calling them out for what we think they said without asking for clarification. We can sound pretty awful.
Most platforms have ways to be private in our conversation. And all relationship has a sliding scale from anonymous comment to face-to-face vacation weekend away. In between are emails, phone calls, and handshakes.
When James invites us to be careful of our tongues, he was talking about our texts and tweets, too. I work hard to move to ways of interacting that allow more nuance whenever I can. (Unfortunately, this means that sometimes I don’t follow up at all).
There are always more people in the room with us than we realize.