This post might strike you as the ramblings of an extremely paranoid person, but this has been on my mind this week--and it's a passive aggressive way for me to deal with my reactions this week, so forgive me as I ramble.
I've been back on Twitter trying to catch up in my relationships with people and get more involved after the summer swamped me. A good portion of people I follow are writers and those who aren't writers are good with words... I know that because, otherwise, I wouldn't follow them. I don't generally unfollow anyone I initially follow so I take a good hard look at people's feeds before I follow them. I look for severe use of profanity, overuse of text speak, poor grammar (I'm sorry but I do... my OCD will kill me otherwise), inappropriate content, solely self-promotion, negativity, frequency of updates, whether they interact with followers, how likely they are to follow me back or stay following me, and so on. I judge them. That's right, I judge them. If I follow your blog or follow you on twitter, I've judged you. I don't use a program. When it comes right down to whether I invite someone's words into my day, I go with my gut... with my emotion... and I judge them to be worthy or not. Most of the time, I don't give people a second look to change that impression. The old adage that you have one chance to make a first impression is true even on the internet.
The internet and Twitter are packed with people. I don't need to follow anyone because there aren't other people available. There are always more people. More people join Twitter and get on the internet every day, but what you've JUST said... that's what you're being judged on... or maybe they did a search and it's what you said yesterday... or three years ago... the internet is forever after all, and you've just been judged. Maybe the bulk of people who judge you won't matter at all. Maybe one will. You can't know which.
There is always someone watching you on the internet. If you're a writer, that person might be your future agent, editor, or your future reader. So, if you're on Twitter spreading vitriol because you're feeling cranky--it's 3 a.m. and you're still awake, it doesn't matter. It's the middle of the night, right? It's NOT 3 a.m. everywhere. The internet is a 24 hour/7 days a week venue. Even if you delete those Tweets, you haven't deleted them. They can be found. If nothing else, the Library of Congress has been nice enough to keep copies of all tweets. If we've learned nothing else from celebrity scandals lately, you should know that anything you put out there can't be snatched back--even if you really, really want to. The internet is forever.
This week there was an article in Publisher's Weekly that hit Twitter like a lit match in dry brush. It was "supposedly" about two YA writers who were asked by an agent to remove a character who was gay. The initial response from agents that I saw was complete and utter surprise because they'd never heard of such a thing. Editors were the same way. I read the article and just kept thinking of how many times I'd heard the opposite... of agents and editors requesting novels like that. It felt wrong. So, I just watched it go nuts all around me, and I felt somewhat bad for not participating, but I just kept thinking, "I don't think it's true. I think they sensationalized a lie." Yesterday, it turned out not to be true. While that hasn't spread quite as quickly... tomorrow it'll still be a lie. Next week, it'll still be a lie. It'll forever be a lie on the internet, and several people who jumped on the pyre to rage with these poor, maligned authors now despise them for lying to everyone. The internet is forever, and mobs love to grab pitchforks.
I've been trying this week to get information off the internet about me. It's not bad information, but it's information. Most of you know how intensely I guard the privacy of my kids. My kids' Autism makes them vulnerable, and my responsibility as a parent is to protect them. I don't want my desire to have a public profile and to be on the internet to negatively impact them. I'm afraid to be on Facebook because I know people from our church or friends might not think anything of taking pictures of my kids and tagging them with their names. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get something off the internet once it's there? I already knew that, but it's been ground into my brain this week. It's like letting go a bag of feathers in a windstorm and hoping to gather them all up. One site takes it and passes it to the next and to the next and to the next. Anything you put on the internet can be passed on like an endless game of telephone. It's a runaway train. It's a raging river of information. The best thing is to never put that information out there if you don't want it distributed. The internet is forever, and it's often malignant, and what you write will spread.
This week, my blog started giving malware warnings for a brief amount of time. My blogroll followed other blogs who followed another blog who'd been attacked by hackers. It trickled back through the blogs back to mine. It was interesting to see that as broad as the internet is--there are groups that are not. In the writing community, we're all connected if you're trying for an online presence. If you think there isn't a chance that your blog or your tweet won't be seen by the person you're talking about, you're wrong. There is always that chance. I remember once upon a time I asked for advice on which YA books to buy based on whether they had profanity or sex in them. At the time, I didn't know the authors but I'd seen the covers of the books and read the blurbs and been intrigued. It was kind of a shock to see one of the authors had responded himself to tell me about the content in the book. Once upon a time, I was also discussing the content of the book Shiver on Twitter and Maggie Stiefvater jumped in to discuss it. The internet is big... but google can make it as small as a corner cafe.
We tend to feel a certain anonymity as we type away on our keyboards at wherever we are. There's a disconnection when you can't see the results of your words on someone's face. Sometimes we forget that words can hurt. Sometimes we think no one is reading. It doesn't matter if no one is reading it today, though. It doesn't matter if no one is reading it tomorrow. Yesterday, I stumbled across something someone posted in 1993 when the internet was still relatively new (in the capacity it exists today.) Eighteen years ago, that person had that opinion. I'm not sure if they still do today, but it doesn't matter... because the internet is forever. Your words will eventually be read. For better or for worse, they will be read. Maybe they'll be read by the audience you'd intended and maybe not. How would you feel either way? It takes very little effort to be kind and to say nice things. Sometimes it's hard to control your temper but some words are better left unsaid. The officiator marrying my husband and I advised us to not say anything in anger that you'll wish you could take back because you won't be able to. Just like in real life, once you say something--it can't be unsaid.
The internet is a big world.
The internet is a small world.
It's full of people, but it's full of individuals. The opinion of one single person can make a difference.
The internet is forever.
Unless, of course, the machines or zombies take over; in which case, it's every person for themselves. ; )