Inconsiderately Polite

College Students' Views on Etiquette Online

779 Hideously Lucky Individuals

Book cover, American Gods

Book cover, American Gods (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. In general, his works are fantasy and incredibly witty. But if Lord of the Rings isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry, his work is very modern and would better be described as urban fantasy, which is probably the best sub-genre out there (in my humble opinion). I’ve laughed out loud many times while reading his novels. He’s best known for American Gods, or at least it seems that way because that’s the book everybody recommends. And if you haven’t read it, I highly suggest you do. It is definitely in my top 5, which you should know is a very selective list. And if you know the movie Stardust, well, it was based off his short book with the same title. He is also responsible for The Sandman comic series which I haven’t personally read but it seems pretty amazing.

I follow Neil Gaiman both on twitter and on tumblr. Really, his books are only part of the reason I love him so much. Seeing him on social networking sites, I’ve watched him give invaluable advice to aspiring writers like myself, as well as talk about his personal life, like his relationship with his wife, Amanda Palmer (they’re very adorable). And even beyond that, there was his recent, inspirational graduation speech. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend taking the time to listen to it. It blew me away when I did. I’m not ashamed to admit that it made me cry—more than that, it was the main thing that pushed me to continue down the path of becoming a writer. See, when you tell people you’re a writing major, mostly they just ask “What for?” It’s worse when I say I want to write books. I’m usually met with: “Okay, but what do you want to do?” Okay, I would think, I can’t be a novelist; it’s not realistic. What else is there for me? Quite frankly, there’s nothing I really want, and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, this has been a great source of anxiety for me. But when I listened to Gaiman’s speech, it really hit me. Yes, writing is exactly what I want to do. I have to “make good art.” Nothing else will do.

Surprisingly, the actual point of this blog post is actually not to gush about how wonderful Neil Gaiman is. I’m actually supposed to be analyzing who he follows on Twitter, so let me do just that.

Gaiman follows 779 people as I write this. It’s nothing compared to the almost two million people following him, but it’s still a lot more than a lot of other famous people follow. Like many of us, a lot of the people he follows have that blue check mark of authenticity, although a greater amount do not. Much of the list consists of writers, actors, artists, and musicians, although mostly they seem to be writers of various kinds. Of the writers, most specify that they are fantasy/sci-fi authors. Very few of the bios I scrolled past did not make any claims at being an artist, and most of those had silly phrases like “A comedian from the 90s. Capable of almost 12 facial expressions though I rarely use more than 4 of them.” Honestly, I don’t think I’ve scrolled farther than two names without seeing another artist. There are a few fans sprinkled in, such as the girl with this bio: ”

  • I just love reading, that’s a fact… Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen and Neil Gaiman are my favs…”

I can only imagine how she screamed when she saw him on her followers.

Gaiman’s “following” list suggests, very obviously, that he is very committed to the arts. This makes sense, seeing as how he is an artist himself. Yet, it would be very easy to isolate himself, but he doesn’t. The people he follows, as well as his tweets and tumblr posts, show that Gaiman participates with the writer community all around him. He seems to value this community, and he contributes to it while also showcasing the contributions of others. It is the embodiment of the writer as a social creature, and idea I’ve written about previously in this Intro to Writing Arts course. Also it shows that he cares about his wife, who he follows and retweets very often. Did I mention that they’re adorable?

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Don’t Feed the Trolls

According to Urban Dictionary, netiquette is “The established conventions of online politeness…Some conventions vary from site to site or online medium to online medium; others are pretty standard everywhere.” In other words, etiquette on the net. Are the offline and online world so different that they require two different words for the same thing? Apparently so. After all, offline people can have steady conversations with strangers without resorting to rude or cruel comments. The same thing can happen on the internet, sure, but it seems like more often than not it ends in a flame war. Seriously, just look at any Youtube video’s comment section.

But is netiquette something that has no meaning? Are there no rules on the internet? Of course there are. Most blatantly, websites have terms of service (not that many of us actually read them). But beyond that, there is the (usually) unwritten code of conduct in different websites that is essentially created by the users. If you’ve ever cringed at a distant relative’s totally unrelated religious paragraph on your facebook status, you know what I’m talking about. And don’t think nobody takes online etiquette seriously. Stopcyberbulling.org has a great guide to online etiquette, one that puts down some of the unspoken rules many of us have grown familiar with.

The first thing on the list seems obvious: “Start by making sure you are sending things to the right place, that it arrives and that the right person gets it.” Makes sense. No one likes getting the wrong message, and it’s an easy thing to do.

The next point is also fairly simple: “Is it worth sending? Don’t waste peoples’ time or bandwidth with junk, chain e-mails and false rumors.” If I had a dollar for every time someone sent me chain-mail and wondered “Why did you even waste my time?” My tuition would be paid for.

The third point: “Proofread and spell-check your e-mails and make sure they know who you are.” Pretty self-explanatory.

The fourth point: “Don’t attack others online, say anything that could be considered insulting or that is controversial.” I don’t know if I agree 100%. I mean, definitely don’t attack people or insult them, but sometimes it is important to discuss controversial topics. Still, there is definitely a time and place for those things. This section also states “If someone tells you that you hurt their feelings, find out how and apologize. Let them know when you did things without meaning to. If they lash out at you, thinking you did it on purpose, before you attack them back, try explaining that it was accidental.” I totally agree with that part. So much could be avoided if people talked things out like adults.

I won’t go into the rest of what the article says, but there is one last point I want to talk about: “Are you angry when you are writing this message?” It is definitely a good idea to stop yourself from sending something until after you’ve “cooled down.” Especially if someone is purposely trolling you. As the site says, “these things go away much faster if you don’t reply at all. The person sending them is looking for a reaction. They soon get tired and go away if they don’t get any.” While this doesn’t work all the time when it comes to bullies, it works wonders with your average, run-of-the-mill trolls.

Seriously, everybody. Do not feed the trolls.

troll

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The Fairies at the Bottom of Margaret Atwood’s Twitter

Margaret Atwood and I have a few things in common. She’s a lady; I’m a lady. She has a twitter; I have a twitter. She writes stuff; I write stuff. Yet those are where our outstanding similarities end. After all, she has around 400,000 followers on Twitter—I just checked—while I have less than twenty. Oh, and she’s published and has several full-length novels. I’m nowhere close.

The real reason I’m thinking about Atwood at all is because I was assigned to read this blog post of hers in one of my classes.  I must confess, I’ve never read any of her work before, but after that post, I’m putting her on my list. Seriously, her first sentence is this: “A long time ago—less than a year ago in fact, but time goes all stretchy in the Twittersphere, just as it does in those folksongs in which the hero spends a night with the Queen of Faerie and then returns to find that a hundred years have passed and all his friends are dead… where was I?”  The analogy doesn’t have much to do with the content of the post, but I seriously love stories like that. I mean, the word ‘Faerie’ is in my username.

The real interesting part of this post, however, isn’t the sadly short-lived fantasy metaphors. Atwood writes about creating her Twitter account, despite the fact that she “thought it was for kiddies.” But what really connects to the purpose of this blog is the way she describes her followers, which really shows the way etiquette on the internet is totally different from the etiquette of “real life”, face-to-face interactions . Evidently, one of her earlier followers tweeted Atwood saying, “I love it when old ladies blog.”

the-beginner-s-guide-to-twitter-d5e5ee7224

While the comment isn’t malicious, and Atwood certainly seems more amused than offended, it just isn’t something someone would say in person. Think it? Sure. Say it to a friend? Sure. But definitely not directly to her, as was done on Twitter. Can you imagine someone going up to her at a book signing and saying something like, “Oh my god, the fact that old ladies like you have a Twitter is so cute!” Probably not. Seems kinda rude in person, doesn’t it?

Even though things like that seem like they would be rude, Atwood is still “well pleased with [her] followers.” She even enjoys the way they pick at her typos and “tease without mercy.” Now, I doubt anybody would do something like that to her favorite author in person. Most people are too nervous to really be themselves. Yet, on Twitter, when there’s a screen and miles and miles in between, the playing field is equal. People are less afraid to play around and make jokes with even Atwood. Don’t get me wrong, this can and does lead to people being nastier and crueler to each other. But in Atwood’s case, it worked out—she likes the difference in etiquette just fine. To her, it’s “like having 33,000 precocious grand children.” Or, now, 400,000 of them.

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Anxious Over Change

For my Introduction to Writing Arts course, I was assigned to readings by Bolter on the change from printed texts to digital ones. To be honest, the idea that we are in “late age of print” scared me a bit. It’s embarrassing to admit; after all, I’m a young college kid. I’m not supposed to be technologically inept for at least another fifteen years. Yet there I was, feeling anxious. Bolter writes that “linear forms such as the novel and the essay may or may not flourish in an era of digital media” (6). I have never been one to handle uncertainty well. As a writing major, I have set myself up to spend my life writing. All I know, all I’ve been taught my entire life, are these so-called linear forms of writing. In fact, my intention was creative: I wanted to create novels. A risky idea already, as my friends and family love to remind me, but now they might just cease to exist? Bolter continues on to say that “prose itself is being forced to renegotiate its cultural role” as the visual becomes the way to present information (Bolter 6). Still, I am not a “Visual Arts” major, and I am not being trained in the visual.

Upon forcing myself to think about it longer, however, I understand that prose becoming less linear does not necessarily mean that I will have nothing to do with my talents and that I will end up cold and homeless (no matter what my anxiety will have me believe).

anxiety-21

In “Writing as Technology,” Bolter talks about the ways newer technologies “define themselves by borrowing from, paying homage to, critiquing, and refashioning their predecessors” (24). In particular, I’m interested in the example of games: “computer games remediate film by styling themselves as ‘interactive movies'” (Bolter 25). The video game industry, for all its flaws, has really grown. Games have the ability to tell a story in a way that novels or movies can’t. They have become far more story-driven than they were in the beginning. I always toyed with the idea of trying to become a video game writer, but I gave up on the idea because I felt I wasn’t good enough at games. Reading what Bolter had to say about the evolution of writing, however, I feel like this is the perfect option for me. Even if the novel is dying out, the video game surely isn’t. And, fortunately for me, my ability to write is far better than my ability to complete a game on its hardest difficulty.

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Gosh Darn Electronic Writing Technololgies

It is strange to imagine a world where all communication forms are found online or through technological devices. There is something empowering about holding a book in your hard and physically moving the pages. There is something genuine about going to the library and finding a book source for the paper you are writing. I am not against technology in any way, I just believe it will be hard to adapt to a world where books do not exist, where libraries are rows and rows of computers, and a world where everything is at your fingertips. As a future educator, the fact that there may one day be a world without a physical book for my students to hold, feel, and look at, scares me. Everything I know about how to teach my students how to read and write may become a source of pointless information. I understand that for the content area of writing, the written word is the technology itself. J.D. Bolter, in the chapter, Writing as Technology, explains, “The Greek root of “technology” is techne, and for the Greeks a techne could be an art or a craft, “a set of rules, system or method of making or doing, whether of the useful arts, or of the fine arts’” (15). Writing, of course, has its own set of rules and would be considered a useful art. During school, the content area of writing is one of the most important subjects because of the implications for the future. For me, I learned how to write using the pencil, the same way that many of you learned. However, today, there are preschoolers learning how to write the letters of the alphabet using apps on iPads. They are using their finger as the “pencil.” Bolter also states, “When one medium sets out to remediate another, it does so by claiming to do a better job” (26).

English: iPads can be a distraction to learning

English: iPads can be a distraction to learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not intend on claiming that the iPad apps for writing are not helping the students learn their letters, but I disagree with the fact that they do a better job. If the students are using their fingers to write the letters, they are going to lack the physical skills and knowledge of how to hold a pencil. I understand how closed-minded I am on the subject, but I feel that if nothing is wrong with a technique or way of teaching, there is no need to fix it. I know the age of virtual classrooms is upon us, but I will hold on to every last paper and ink book that I can. If I cannot teach my students how to read and write without the use of technology, I will at least be able to teach them about how I learned how to read and write, and the differences between their generation and my own.

Read Bolter’s Chapters here!

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Inconsiderately Polite

College Students' Views on Etiquette Online

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