I know I seem to harp on this subject. However, it is something that has been on my mind pretty much all semester.
At the beginning of the semester I viewed online interactions as bad, and here’s why: I lose some inhibitions. In person, I hate confrontation . . . so when I need to confront someone, or if I just need to say something not complimentary, I hedge. And hedge. And hedge. And I try to word it in the nicest way possible, but then it probably doesn’t come out clearly. But online, with that face-to-face interaction out of the way, I don’t tend to hedge (at least, not as much). This has gotten me in trouble at times, when I’ve dashed off a nasty comment on a Facebook post, or snarkily responded to someone in some other version of an online conversation.
But those interactions aside, I’m actually beginning to see the benefit of online conversation for someone with a personality like mine. I’m more assertive online. I’m also more honest with friends who send me writing samples or grant proposals for editing and/or review (though I believe that, for the most part, I am kindly so). I noticed part of this phenomenon back in 2008, when I was reviewing proposals for a federal anti-drug grant program. It was a blind review – I didn’t know who they were, and they didn’t know who I was. So I was honest. Fair, but honest. I pointed out the flaws in their proposals, praised what deserved to be praised, and gave recommendations to the program director for who should be awarded the grants. At the time I was simply surprised at my own professionalism. But I never really fully put it together (until recently) that this anonymity gave me boldness that I don’t otherwise have.
So, the anonymity online gives me confidence…online. I have been trying to think of how to translate that into “real life.” (Why hello, there, Turkle! Didn’t see you there…) At first, I placed the blame on others, annoyed by the fact that we often don’t respect each other’s area of expertise. And this is true. However, I can’t blame it all on them; I have to accept the fact that my own hesitancy (and, indeed, lack of confidence) is undermining my own authority. Online, I can say, “This is my experience. It has taught me ___. And from that, I can tell you ___.” And if I word it correctly, it will gain me respect, and my ideas will be “heard.” In person, those words (and my ethos) can be negated by my lack of confidence. (Hmmm…sounds like the canon of delivery?)
I haven’t yet figured out how to translate this online experience into the rest of my life, but I can at least say that I’m viewing online interactions a little more positively now. Because if I don’t let myself get carried away, these online interactions might just help build me a spine.