One of my favorite writers, Jon Ronson, has a new book coming out this year. It’s about the culture of shame that has arisen on the Internet. An excerpt was published this week at The New York Times and a couple of months back Ronson read a chapter at Pop Up Magazine’s first foray into Los Angeles.
I’ve been thinking about the book since that night, over and over. In the excerpt he read he talked to the people involved in the infamous “dongle” incident at a tech conference a few of years ago. You might remember it, if you don’t Google “dongle incident” and click on the first link. That should job the memory (or read the NYT excerpt, which skims over the details).
The take-away is that someone said something dumb and juvenile and someone else took offense because they saw it as indicative of a culture of oppression. Both interpretations are perfectly sound depending on where you are reasoning from, and the underlying problem is that there isn’t a fundamental reference point that everyone involved truly agrees on.
Which pretty much sounds like the goddamn Internet every damn day… which is itself a reflection of the billions of people who are connecting on this thing all the damn time.
Every time I turn around I see people getting into arguments because either an author is piss poor at code switching or a reader pops in without the requisite frame of reference and starts talking trash.
At one point I was going to write a version of this that put the onus on writers to “know your audience” and kowtow to the fact that anywhere on the Internet is an open air market. You can’t really control who is going to see what you make, and you certainly can’t control what paradigm they are bringing along for the ride.
But I don’t want to let readers, the audience, whoever, off the hook here. Because I know that I feel a responsibility whenever I read—or watch, or otherwise take in—a piece of work to try and understand what the creator of that work is trying to say. It’s actually one of the reasons I can’t expose myself to Ann Coulter or Fox News for too long, because that way of thinking starts camping out in my head and then my whole body wants to puke itself out…but I digress.
Understanding is a two way street.
Authors: know who your target audience is but also know that out here there is no controlling when people are going to drop in out of the sky and have no fucking clue what’s going on—and yet still feel entitled to raise up a mob to destroy you.
Readers: don’t be lazy. Try and honestly grok what’s being said to you. Try and figure out where someone is coming from. It might be ugly, and you might find out that the person you’ve just bothered to understand is some kind of monster/14-year-old boy with too much free time.
My mom always taught me when dealing with other people to “consider the source.” It was her way of reminding me that everyone has an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion is worth heeding, but there’s something even more subtle true underneath the statement. What’s true for that “source” might not be true for you, but it let’s you know how your truth is perceived in their world. And if you know how someone perceives you, you then have power over that perception.
Or something like that. I’ve only had one cup of coffee so far today and my right index finger is already giving me little shooting pains. Ta!