Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Does Miss Manners Tweet?

I recently made a good friend in Romlandia, and it really makes all the difference.  I have someone to ask "Who's this?" before I put my foot in it and write the wrong thing.  Twitter is famous for this.  You can see someone's @name and think, "Oh, she looks interesting," so you follow her and almost immediately discover you really don't know what she's talking about or who's she talking to.  Now I have someone I can ask.

Another pitfall in Romlandia is how you can get into debates with people without ever meaning to, and possibly without having really signed on to that specific debate topic.  With Twitter, in particular, you can suddenly find yourself defending a position -- in 140 characters or less! -- that you might not actually believe, if you had the time to sort out all your feelings.  Someone tweets something, you hit reply with what you thought was a modest enough point, and before you know it, you're defending the most absurdly dogmatic positions.

In real life -- which is to say, if that person were in the room with you -- the exchange would have been very different.  Here's a hypothetical Twitter exchange:

TweetTwit23 @PeepsRUs  Have you read the latest Edith Peach-Pitt novel?  It was a DNF for me, I'm afraid. Something about the hero put me off.
PeepsRUs @TweetTwit23 Oh, I loved that book.  Something about his teal hair and slightly scaly skin was so appealing.  Would love to meet him in real life. LOL
TweetTwit23 @PeepsRUs Are you nuts?  He was a chameleon.  WTF?  Since when is that sexy? Don't care how many sex organs he has.  Gross.
PeepsRUs @TweetTwit23 U R so wrong.  Donaldo was elegant and suave, esp. in full evening dress.  Can't believe U didn't feel the LURV.
TweetTwit23 @PeepsRUs  He was a LIZARD. Lizards are not sexy!! The Geico thingie is not sexy, no matter what his accent!  Can't believe this got published.
PeepsRUs @TweetTwit23 YOU HAVE NO SOUL.  You are a SPECIESIST and have NO imagination.  Book was AWESOME!!

Here's the same conversation at a coffee shop:

Mary:  Hey, have you read that new book by Edith -- what's her last name?
Tammy:  Peach-Pitt?
Mary:  Yeah, that's the one.  I forget what the book's called, but the hero is a shapeshifting chameleon.
Tammy:  Yeah, I read it.  Did you like it?
Mary:  Not so much.  How about you?
Tammy:  Well, there was a good bit of disbelief being suspended, but yeah, I kind of liked it.
Mary:  Hunh.  Well, to each his own, I guess.  I'm getting a biscotti -- can I get you one?
Tammy:  That would be lovely, thanks.

Now I have a theory about why exchanges on Twitter "go polar" (meaning devolve to positions as close to 180-degree opposition as possible), but it almost doesn't matter why it happens.  What matters, to me at least, is that we lose the opportunity to learn.  My coffee shop friends could actually have a lengthy and fascinating discussion about whether a chameleon is an appropriate hero for a paranormal romance.  They could leave such a discussion no more in agreement about Ms. Peach-Pitt's novel than when they started, but with a new perspective on what makes for a romantic hero when any species is possible.  (I'm drawing the line at snakes, myself.  The absence of arms and legs would seem to be a deal-breaker.)

I like "the marketplace of ideas," but I favor the soft sell.  It not that someone who believes something strongly should mute that certainty in favor of some namby-pamby washed-out position.  But there has to be a way to express our certainty without attacking another, or even insisting that the opposite position is wrong.  Clearly, if Mary thinks X and and Tammy thinks not-X, they disagree with each other.  Each may even think the other's position is rot.  But that disagreement is so obvious that there's no need, surely, to use up a subset of those 140 precious character to write it out.

Now, I'm no one's mother.  People can have at each other on the Internet if they wish.  Free country, and all that.  But I try not to.  And that's a position that's neither right nor wrong.  I could accept some justification for what others do -- and if I worked at it, I might be able to imagine a situation where I felt it necessary to behave that way myself.  It just seems unlikely.  My guess is, in most situations I'm going to be quite comfortable using phrases like, "that's just me," or "in my opinion," or even the automotively-phrased, "your mileage might vary."  Those aren't just panaceas to me.  They all stand for a simple proposition:  Everyone's entitled to think that they are right.

I can afford to be open-minded and so forth because I have a friend in Romlandia.  At times, Twitter has reminded me of people passing notes in homeroom, or -- wait, I've got it!  Remember when you didn't have to bring a valentine for everyone in the class, so the most popular kids would get the most valentines?  Well, that wasn't me.  And it never will be.  I'll never be the most sought-after voice in Romlandia, and I'll never get the most tweets/comments/valentines.  That's okay -- I've got my friend, and I'm happy.

But I'm going to treat everyone who comes to Promantica the way I treat her.

1 comment:

  1. But I like arguing in 140 chars or less! It means I can avoid providing evidence, can argue while doing other things and can blame my butchering of the English language (ok and the butchering of logic) on the limit on characters!! :D

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