This is me preaching to myself.
I have broken each and every one of these “commandments,” and so I am the perfect person to need to create a list. I promise that none of you have had a worse time communicating online than I have in the last ten years since I got my first email address. It was at the ancient age of eighteen, I might add. I was practically a senior citizen.
(Cue hick voice) “What is this new-fangled thingamajig called The Web…?”
I sure love being able to keep my friends, even when we move all across the United states, and even all over the world! I love being able to share my pictures and videos with grandparents at the click of a mouse. I also really love blogging. I communicate online a lot. Therefore, I make a lot of accidents in getting my crazy, hyper thoughts across in the right way.
My husband doesn’t seem to have this problem. Granted, he communicates online a lot less. Those of you who have seen his Facebook page hit the almost rigor mortis stage know what I’m talking about. But he still seems to possess an infinite capability to think things through and simply say them well. So I begged him, over the years, to teach me his craft. I am a slow pupil. After, yet again, a dear friend, who I care about, completely misunderstood what I said to her today, I decided to write up the thoughts that I had been gathering over the recent years that I have been married:
1. Remember, first and foremost, that you are seeing a very limited view of only one side of the story.
It’s so easy for me to take people at face value, but the Internet makes lying ten times easier. Even if the person you’re talking to sounds sincere, you have no clue if they’re really in an insane asylum typing three times slower than you do because they’re wrestling with the strait jacket. And even if your new friend, username psychogirl, isn’t really mentally disturbed, you are relying on black words on a white page to relay all information to you. You have lost voice patterns, facial expressions, environment, and other witnesses. That being said…
2. Pick up the phone.
Internet communication tends to go serious very fast. I’ve noticed that people have an easier time talking through extremely hard stuff when they don’t have to look you in the eye and use their voice. It’s easier to spill your guts when it’s only your fingers, a bright screen, a headache, and a cup of chai tea. If you know the person, have their phone number, and the conversation is going downhill really fast, tell them you need to call. Yeah, it’s embarrassing, and they may try to get out of it, but insist, if you can. Too many times I tried to pander to a shy friend, only to find that they read me entirely wrong over and over and over again. Many a friendship might have been saved, had I used the vocal chords I am more proficient with.
3. If the phone isn’t an option, and even if the conversation isn’t too serious, when in doubt, talk privately.
Facebook statuses and tweets are places to have simple discussions, comment with anecdotal stories, and give obligatory exclamations about someone else’s kid. It is not the place to confront, correct, or give personal stories about the time your husband passed gas in his sleep. Most internet forums, social networks, and private websites have places to privately contact people. If you’re going all serious on someone, and you just don’t know them well enough to call, send them a private message. However…
4. Stick to your own gender.
Now, it’s important to note, I officially do NOT condone males and females private messaging alone. I try my very hardest not to do it. I make sure it rarely happens. If the person you’re needing to confront is of the opposite gender, throw your spouse or sibling or parent or friend of the same gender into the mix. Try to make sure it’s someone they know and are okay with, or you may really make them uncomfortable. Internet relationships get very sticky very fast. It’s easy for boys and girls and men and women to become too close online, again, because they have the freedom to do and say embarrassing things without looking you in the eye. Honestly, it’s pretty much impossible for men and women to be best friends, and, when it does happen, it can give one or more people the wrong impression. Stick to casual, public internet communication with the opposite gender. I’m probably going to step on a lot of toes with this one but, trust me, get to know the opposite sex in-person if you at all possibly can. For your own protection.
5. Repeat what you’ve written out loud before you send it.
Did you really mean to say that? You’d be surprised at how differently things sound when they’re spoken out loud. Too embarrassing or mean to say out loud? Can you picture saying it out loud to the other person’s face? If the answer is, “No way!” then Delete Button has just become your new best friend, or maybe your only one, if you decide not to use him.
6. Run your words past your spouse, a parent, or a pastor, especially if they are godly and mature, but think very differently than you do.
My husband is my exact opposite. He thinks completely differently than I do. If I say, “It’s a bird!” he says, “It’s a plane.” Letting him read what I have written ensures that a wise person will give me a unique take on what I had to say. Very important: Don’t read it out loud to this person. Then they hear your tone of voice, get the impression you’re trying to make, and can be soothed into a false sense of security that your words are nice and heartfelt. Let them read it to themselves. My husband will point out, “Why would you say, ‘What on earth, you bumwad?!'” I laugh, repeat the phrase to him. “No! It’s like this!” (batting eyelashes) “What on earth? You adorably cute bumwad, you! (teeheeehee)”
Yeah, my husband’s raised eyebrows and pointed look says it all. I scratch that line altogether.
7. CUT your message in half.
You don’t need all of those words! It’s a scary thing, eliminating half of your sentences, but, I promise you, less is more. When you’re on the third repeated sentence of, “I just DON’T GET IT!” it really loses its poignancy. When you’re trying to convince someone that what they’re doing is wrong, saying, “It’s wrong. It’s really wrong. Let me show you how wrong,” makes you lose cred. Wouldn’t it be more powerful to just say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand why you did that. What you have done is wrong. I’d love to explain it further if you’re interested. Can I call you?” Sobering.
“The more you talk, the more likely you are to sin. If you are wise, you will keep quiet.” (Proverbs 10:19) How true that is.
8. Talk about other people less, and, if the need arises in prayer requests or emergencies, don’t use names.
It’s really hard to distinguish what is gossip and what isn’t in a Christian group. So many times we have legitimate prayer needs that involve people. So many of us are connected to one another and things just get around. So much of our online life is so public, with everything on display, that it all feels like shared information. So, to combat this, try just talking about people less. If you have a trusted friend or family member that you need prayer from, or if you are in a situation that you have to talk about, don’t use names.
9. Know that everything can be recorded and saved and exposed online.
Delete when need be – don’t save everything! It’s utter foolishness! You will make mistakes, and who wants to be remembered for those? But, regardless, be pure, be safe, be tactful, and be discerning. It can, and will, come back to bite you in the rump.
10. Use far more Scripture and far less of your own opinion.
One is inerrant, the other is… frankly, not.
11. You’re not as funny as you think.
Very, very few people can pull off good Internet humor. I certainly can’t. Even if it’s followed by ten LOL’s, it’s often perceived as serious. If you’re someone whose online presence has always consisted of merely humor, then, most likely, none of this list applies to you anyway. However, if you are someone who wants to have deep, meaningful, or at least half-decent relationships online, it’s hard to make the switch from serious conversation to comedic. Either clearly state that something is supposed to be laugh-out-loud-able, or people are really going to scold you, thinking you seriously let Grandma feed your child Vodka in his nighttime bottle.
12. Try, if you can, when stating a personal opinion, to avoid absolutes.
This doesn’t apply to the Word of God or things that are absolute fact, like, “My daughters are the cutest children in the world” or anything like that, of course… (wink) That was humor, people. See? It’s always a tough crowd!
Use “in my experience,” instead of, “Always!” Say, “I feel,” instead of, “I know it is” and “It appears to me that you do,” instead of “you never.”
13. As much as possible, pursue friendships you made online outside of the Internet.
Bring in the second and third dimension of knowing them face to face, or at least hearing their voice. The friendship just cannot progress without it. At some point you will be stuck, and usually with frequent miscommunications. I met my husband online and he came out to visit me at my family’s house every three months. It took years for me to learn how to interpret his facial expressions. There was so much that made more sense when we were in person.
14. And lastly, you are answerable for every careless word spoken online as well.
(Matthew 12:36) This doesn’t just apply to the spoken word. Picture yourself defending your written words to Christ Himself. “Lord Jesus, I need to say this to the child You fashioned and created and loved and died for because…”
Still want to send that email?