Someday, somebody is going to do some sort of sociological analysis of the effect of the internet on human interaction. I can feel–and I bet you can too–the way in which our interactions with other people change when we go on line. I’m certainly no saint in this department. I’m much more blunt about what I think on line. The natural padding we use in our face to face interactions, the non-verbal cues, tones of voice, eye contact, etc. are all absent. All you have are words.
And, of course, the internet is the agora–the marketplace–not the sanctuary. This often has sad results for folks who come into the internet hoping for a sanctuary. The overwhelmingly libertarian culture of the Internet is no place for such people and they often flee in wounded terror. To expose one’s vulnerability by asking for personal advice, confessing failure, or even seeking help for a trial is to invite jerks to lecture you on what a loser your are. Many is the prayer request I have received that I have, for my reader’s sake, refused to post lest they become the sport of crows.
Again, as I say, I’m no shining example here. I’m conscious of the fact that I treat people I know with more gentleness than I treat dumb politicians or people in comboxes who say the same stupid thing for the umpteenth time in a tone of airy superiority. And I realize I can come off sounding brusque when, in reality, I’m just hassled and hurried and under the gun with a deadline and I’m trying to plow through the mail. I wonder how often I’ve misread readers who were likewise not being hostile but sounded that way at this end.
Anyway, for all my sins of brusqueness, rudeness, insensitivity, misplaced mockery (my goal is to mock the arrogant and powerful, not the weak and vulnerable), and so forth, mea culpa.