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Politeness Without a Face

By Neuromancer in Culture
Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 08:59:32 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)
Internet

Do people treat others differently when they are interracting on the net, or have our manners as a culture merely diminished significantly. Below, I observe our experiences both via the internet and in person, and attempt to draw a conclusion.


I must admit, that something has been bothering me for a long time about interraction via the net. People seem to separate a conversation via IRC from one face to face as completely separate entities. Now that net usage has become more pervasive, people are wising up to this fact a bit more than they used to, but their conduct on the whole hasn't changed much. Even the most savvy internet user still falls prey to saying the phrase, "Well, I would never act that way IRL."

A little background for our audience. I have been on the net for probably 8 years now. Before that, I had been bouncing around a pool of something like 30 BBSs, which was actually a case of me CUTTING down on my BBS usage so it would be easier for me to support a "normal social life." I'm a full time software engineer and I used to be an OP in #teen on EFnet. To say the least, I've chatted with a few people in my day. I also consider myself to be a well educated, polite person. I might get a bit inflamatory sometimes when I feel very passionately about something, but all that aside, I tend to keep a cool level head.

Below, I present 2 sides of interraction.

The NET side
Just tonight I was chatting with someone I had just met via the net. Now, some people might think that yahoo chat is just one big dating service, but I don't. The conversation went something like this.

CASE 1:
Me: Hi! How's it going! I see that you're into underwater basketweaving! I am too. Weaved any baskets lately?
Her: No, but I've meant to! It's cool that you're into underwater basketweaving too!
Me: What kind of material do you weave with? My girlfriend and I are going to go weave some baskets tonight!
Her: Really? My boyfriend collects guns and says he wants to shoot you for messaging me!
Me: Excuse me?
Her: I'm taken, so f*ck off!


ANALYSIS:
Call me crazy, but I don't recall hitting on her. Her sitting in one of those "I'm free to chat!" things indicated that she wanted to chat with someone. My indication that I was merely waiting for my girlfriend to come over might have tipped her off that I wasn't hitting on her... but go figure.

CASE 2:
As an op in #teen, I often felt just a bit offended at the general conduct of my fellow ops. Granted, it was kind of lame to sit in a channel where all people do is msg

*flamingHornBall* a/s/l?
*pedophile1* 12/f/OH, msg me big boy!

Oh, so, we can see where this is not a good situation, but what was the reaction from the ops? They wrote clever little kick scripts explaining what an asshole the person being kicked is, and proceeded to treat newcomers rather rudely on all fronts. This wasn't the case ALL of the time, but often someone who flirted with an op would have autoOps by the next week, while referring to it as a "little @" (of mIRC fame) and not even knowing the commands to kick a person.

I countered this by writing a script that generated statistics based on the number of chatters vs the number of people kicked by an individual op, a few people got offended when I compared the thousands of kicks they were making against the general traffic in the channel. It was even more offensive when I noted that more actual chatting went on when they were not around.

ANALYSIS:
Perhaps it's a power trip, but I never saw the fun in being the death of the party.

CASE 3:
Another chat channel story. Yahoo chat now has a webcam feature. Much to my chagrin, the Linux version does not support this, but I have hopped on with the webcams before... It went something like this.

*Me* Hey channel! How's it going!
**Private* My sister wants to see your cock!
**Me* Excuse me?
**Her* Drop them pants boy!
**Me* Why? Are you going to get nekkid too?
**Her* Oh, I can't believe you! What a jerk! F*ck off!
And then I block her...

ANALYSIS:
She probably wouldn't have openned up with "can I see your cock" at a party... or would she have?


The OTHER Side
CASE 1:
At a bar...
*Me* Care to dance?
*Her* I'm taken, fuck off!
*Me* Wanna drink?
*Another Girl* Sure!
5 Mins later:
*Me* Well, nice talking with you
*Her* Yeah, wanna meet all of my friends? Wanna come back to my place?

ANALYSIS:
Well, as we've seen, on this night, I faced both rejection and acceptance. In fact, the acceptance was probably a bit TOO accepting, as where all I wanted to do was make conversation and maybe get a number, she seemed to be planning our nuptuals. This story isn't actually ALL about me, my friend asked the girl to dance that night and I bought the other girl a drink, still, conceptually similar. Worth noting also is the situation where people "protect" their friends at the bar, where 2 people might be enjoying each others company, and the friends of one go about breaking it up. Worth noting is that the corresponding case 1 (above, I'm trying to make these correspond) was not an encounter with romantic intentions, and this one is only slightly more so. This begs a question that I will attempt to answer below, read on!

CASE 2:
Well, while I've seen parties that are real meat lockers, I've never quite seen a situation that equates to the above situation in face-to-face interraction. I'm not even going to try on this one.

CASE 3:
It took me a while to think of how to approach this one, but it occurred to me that there were a few crazy parties that I attended while at college. Of note, one time a girl told me that her friend wanted to have sex with me, and once at a toga party I was asked to ditch the toga, so I suppose that this conduct can be seen in public, however, certainly few people would approach you at the office or in a coffee shop and ask you a similar question.

SWEEPING AND ILL-FOUNDED CONCLUSIONS:
Let me be honest, I'm not a psychologist, I'm not a magazine editor, I have little place writing an article like this. It's not linked elsewhere on the net, it actually lacks all of the qualities that I want to see in K5 articles. I would actually be happy to see it voted down since it's not even clever... however, my girlfriend says I should post it anyway.

I conclude that in general, people DO behave differently in net interractions, but ALSO that our manners in general, are not up to snuff. I also would beg the question, do people view internet chatting as one big freaking dating service? More opinions PLEASE, since that's what this article is intended to find!

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Politeness Without a Face | 21 comments (14 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Someone save me from this (3.50 / 4) (#2)
by paxus on Sat Jan 26, 2002 at 11:14:15 PM EST

Why you felt it necessary to write this long article about something everyone knows is perfectly beyond me. Not being able to see the person you're typing at/talking to is the basis of many things on this planet, one of which is phone sex. We all know that half those women are probably physically undesirable to us, but that's not what you're thinking when you're on the phone, is it? My point? EVERYBODY KNOWS! Nothing beats face-to-face human interaction because it's reality. P.S. Anyone who needs to use the net as a dating service should treat it just like any other blind date, pretend you know nothing, because you don't know anything.


"...I am terrible time, the destroyer of all beings in all worlds, engaged to destroy all beings in this world... " - Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita
No. (2.71 / 7) (#6)
by DeadBaby on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 01:20:45 AM EST

As an op in #teen

House lights. Story over.

You're an op in #teen... you enjoy watching teens chat.. and you're trying to tell other people how to be normal? No.


"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
I was 16 at the time (4.00 / 3) (#9)
by Neuromancer on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 03:45:26 AM EST

I was 16 when I was an op in #teen, I'm not one currently.

[ Parent ]
A few notes (3.50 / 6) (#11)
by Neuromancer on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 03:51:51 AM EST

1) When I was an op in #teen, I was 16. I wasn't some pervert who said, "gosh, watching kids chat would be fun." I was a chatter there myself.
2) Yeah, I know, IRC and K5 do differ greatly. I should add an section covering internet forums, and perhaps newsgroups. It might be interesting to delve into deviant newsgroup behavior. I'm not sure how many followers Kibo would gather at the mall.
3) This probably isn't my best work, but because a level of interest has been expressed, if it gets killed, and I get the feeling that people still really want to post about it, I'll edit it, add some links, and toss it in my diary as soon as I build up the energy to do so. It's kinda late tonight for that.

Who is Kibo (nt) (none / 0) (#19)
by scanman on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 04:06:18 AM EST


"[You are] a narrow-minded moron [and] a complete loser." - David Quartz
"scanman: The moron." - ucblockhead
"I prefer the term 'lifeskills impaired'" - Inoshiro

[ Parent ]

Famous usenet personality (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by jarndt on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 07:41:08 AM EST

See the Everything2 node, the Jargon File entry, and his website.

[ Parent ]
Diamond in the sky (3.75 / 4) (#13)
by sye on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 10:50:22 AM EST

Diamond in the sky

Twinkle, twinkle little net,
How i wonder if you're wet.
Underneath you're just a lie,
Like a secret alibi.

It is said that all children have lied. It is a necessary human development for the imaginative power. Children invent playmates of all kinds. To some extent, Net culture greatly facilitates the space and time for that development phase of the young and restless. But there has to be rules of fair play. Understanding of human decency and due respect of others' privacy should be enforced by ethics and moral teaching.

Dr. Cleo Odzer has written a book based on her own experience and adventure into LambdaMoo. The book was very interesting to me. She defines it as outerspace reflection on one's inner sexual impulse at its deepest root.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
commentary - For a better sye@K5
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
ripple me ~~> ~allthingsgo: gateway to Garden of Perfect Brightess in CNY/BTC/LTC/DRK
rubbing u ~~> ~procrasti: getaway to HE'LL
Hey! at least he was in a stable relationship. - procrasti
enter K5 via Blastar.in

# 2 (4.66 / 3) (#14)
by epepke on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 04:29:48 PM EST

I'm not sure why you think there are no real-life analogues to #2. It seems to me that this is just an extension of cliquishness and social exclusion. All high schools and the entire city of Atlanta work this way.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


Good point (4.50 / 2) (#15)
by Neuromancer on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 04:56:41 PM EST

You could actually make a good point that this is the case. I think that I even thought of it from that angle myself a few times when I was an op.

[ Parent ]
Well understood psychological phenomenon (5.00 / 3) (#16)
by skim123 on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 05:52:46 PM EST

Ask any social psychologist worth her grain of salt and she'll tell you that this is a widely known psychological phenomenon. When people can remain anonymous they feel less responsibility, will act more banal, and will not consider the consequences of their actions much. See "mob mentality." Look into the psychological experiements where the subjects were asked to shock a particular person when the person made comments they disagreed with. The subject could induce anywhere from light to strong shocks. If the subject was sitting in front of the person they were supposed to shock, in plain view, they shocked much less often and with less intensity; if they were in the shadows and wearing a mask to cover their face, they'd shock much more often and with much more juice.

Society is what creates our superego; without it we would be pure id.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum


Where did underwater basket weaving come from? (4.33 / 3) (#17)
by mech9t8 on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 06:37:53 PM EST

And I know I've seen it (and used it) many times before as a humourous example of an obscure hobby (or class, or boy scout badge, or whatever). Anyone know where it first originated, or is it one of those "organically evolved" kinds of things?

--
IMHO
People are stupid. (none / 0) (#18)
by nstenz on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 01:14:43 AM EST

Small BBSes where you know everyone create a situation where people will actually act like their view of their inner self because they're somewhat accountable. They act how they'd like to act if they weren't worried what people thought, within reason.

IRC is almost the opposite... Servers are huge, nobody knows anything about anyhow, and people are real bastards because they can be. If some jerk with ops in a channel doesn't like you, you might as well not even bother trying to chat in there. People can be pretty damn childish.

When the Net started getting popular, non-techie people started using it. Unlike some of the more geeky people (me), they weren't shy. They saw a big playground full of people that could be anywhere. Nobody knew who they were, and they could say anything they want- kind of like IRC. I remember letting several of my acquaintances use my computer to chat with various people... They'd make up all kinds of bullshit, ask them for nude pictures, whatever... They'd never chatted before, and they just didn't care. They were rude and obnoxious because they thought it was funny. I found it to be rather pathetic and embarassing.

Now all of those assholes are online, and it's hard to have a decent conversation with anyone anymore. There's no accountability. People don't get 'banned' from Yahoo! chat like they do from a BBS. If they do, they just make another screen name. Big freakin' deal.

Some trends I've noticed in myself (none / 0) (#20)
by ersatz on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 04:50:11 AM EST

Lately, it seems that I've been acting in a manner somewhat opposite to normal: I'm more reserved on the internet than I am in real life. Two years ago, this wasn't true. I was depressed, angsty, and pissed off at the world. This manifested mostly on a crappy Win32/Mac visual chat program called The Palace (which I still use, in Linux, with WINE). I spent a lot of time trolling, playing shock artist, and generlaly messing with people's minds. At first, it was occasional. Then, it turned out to be more habitual, but stupid. It ended up as almost part of my character to be wittily shocking (this is what differentiated me, and kept me from ever being banned. I never lagged or spammed the server, or ever particularly broke the rules). However, latey, I'm more positive and sure of myself. I don't really feel the need to shock or troll people online anymore (okay, it happens, but its rare). When I'm on my computer, it's usually my chillout time and I'm just not interested. However, in The Real World^tm I've learned to make a hobby of trolling and exhibitionism. It's fun to make people stare. And it is interesting messing with people's mind's. Additionally, making a damned fool of yourself in public shows you've got pretty good self esteem.

The issue is CONTEXT (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by gidds on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 04:23:56 PM EST

In Real Life®, people behave differently depending on where they are, who they're with, what they feel is appropriate or acceptable.  In the toga party case, for example, you said `few people would approach you at the office or in a coffee shop and ask you a similar question'.  And that's exactly the point: the party provided a context where some things were acceptable that weren't in other contexts.

Various parts of the net (IRC, weblogs, conferencing systems, etc.) provide different contexts; different sites, channels, conferences, etc. have different clientele and expectations.  However, unlike Real Life® where contexts are usually widely-known and unambiguous, the youth of much of the net means that context is ambiguous, and people often don't share the same expectations and conventions.  I think that this is the root of the problem described above.  Maybe the chat channel in Case 3 was one where people habitually stripped off for the webcams; maybe this had happened only once which gave the girl the wrong impression.  The girl in Case 1 clearly expected people to `hit on her', and viewed messages in that context; you were viewing her replies in a different context, which is why you were so surprised at her reaction.

So the wider issue is: how can we make context on the net as well known as context in Real Life®?

The conferencing system I use (CiX - a great system with lots of interesting people) has a note attached to each conference that the moderator(s) can use to describe its purpose, and the sort of behaviour they consider appropriate.  This works well, and conferences each have their own character, with user fitting in well.  (It also helps that membership isn't too large - there are several thousand active users - and many of us know each other.)

Other areas of the net will need to provide this context in different ways.  It should become clear if you lurk for long enough, but that's not always appropriate.  What other suggestions do people have?  Can we set the context as users, or must it be done by admins/moderators?  Or is it better to omit any context, and leave people confused and open to these sorts of misunderstandings?

Andy/

Politeness Without a Face | 21 comments (14 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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