Saturation point

I admit it. I don’t handle conflict well. I internalize it far too readily. Even if I’m not in the conflict myself, just having people in conflict near me upsets me. But at least in person I am able to measure the body language as well as the words being spoken and get a more true picture of what is going on. As a general rule, in person people are more careful about what they say. And strangers don’t just walk up and invite themselves into the argument.

Not so online. Context and body language are generally absent in most online “discussions.”  As are most of the social mores that apply when in person. People you never knew existed will appear out of the woodwork to pile on. People who are generally very careful about what they say in person completely lose that caution when online. And people who would never dream of ambushing people at random with controversial statements at work or in social gatherings seem to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable online.

Much of the time I recognize that the part of the brain that self-censors a person’s thoughts has a limited range. The fingers are outside that range, so when people have to type their communication they lose the ability to filter themselves. At least that’s how it seems, and I mostly have grown used to that. But every now and then I reach the point that I’ve had enough. I get tired of people repeatedly bashing my beliefs and me not standing up for myself just to avoid conflict.

That is, of course, the worst time for me to actually respond to these people, because my own self-censor circuit will have tripped the breaker. I no longer feel the need to be kind. I unload with both barrels.

And it never feels good. I hate them for making me mad. I hate myself for allowing myself to be baited. I hate the fact that people have to be so inconsiderate. I hate that there has to be conflict. Why can’t people learn to discuss things rationally and not start conversations as if challenging all comers to a duel?

And I realize that, because of how I responded, people are probably thinking the same thing about me. Totally oblivious to their own provocations, they’re probably thinking I’m a jerk for going thermonuclear on them, not realizing that the message they’ve been presenting all along is that anything less won’t even get their attention.

I wish I could find that happy medium where I respond rationally and thoughtfully before I hit the detonation point. But even that type of response, unless I really know the person I’m responding to, is difficult for me, for whom conflict-avoidance is instinctive. Besides, even if you know the person you’re addressing, there often seems to be someone lurking invisibly outside the conversation just waiting to jump on you without warning, even if you’re trying to be calm, rational, and inoffensive. Walk middle of the road, squish. Like grape.

Usually, once I’ve caught myself hitting that saturation point, the only solution is to just avoid those venues where such things are likely to occur until I return to my serene place and can suffer fools with a smile, or at least without responding.

As you can probably tell, I’ve hit that saturation point again. The irritating people have gotten to me once again, and I can no longer suffer in silence, because suddenly I believe that silence makes those jerks think they presented an unassailable argument. Most of the time I see my silence as just silence. Not once I’ve hit “that point.” Suddenly to be silent is not just showing their comment unworthy of a response, but surrendering my dignity.

One of the failings of the internet is that in cyberspace no one can hear you shun.  The proper response to these jerks is to ignore them, but what’s the point if they can’t tell you’re ignoring them? To them “ignoring you” looks the same as “Hah! I silenced them with my superior intellect once again!” And sometimes that’s just unacceptable, and until I get my self-censor circuit reset I’m going to do my best to disillusion them of that notion.

So once again I’m going to be avoiding social media for awhile until I return to my “happy place.” People are not going to learn to be civil, and I have to accept that again. People are going to continue to share “finger in your eye” meme pics, seemingly oblivious to the fact that many of their friends will not see it as they do. People are going to continue posting insensitive jokes that they would never tell in the physical world without first checking to make sure only their understanding friends can hear. People are still going to believe that the rhetorical equivalent of “You’re wrong because you’re not me” is an incontrovertible argument.

The thing about my “going hermit” is that you probably won’t notice the difference. To you not posting because I’m avoiding all but the most harmless, inoccuous posts looks a lot like not posting because I have nothing to say or I’m busy. Only the most astute Thom Stratton watchers will notice any difference (and in defiance of all logic, such people exist).

Social media is turning me into a misanthrope. It’s similar to being a lycanthrope, in that the change is temporary (hmm….there is a full moon this week), but it’s not safe to be around me until it’s passed. I must retire to my cave until I start to desire human company again.


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5 Responses to Saturation point

  1. Robyn Taylor says:

    My Dear Thom,

    Sometimes I think you and I are cut from the same cloth. You have eloquently put into words the thoughts that keep me awake at night.

    I think when it comes to the internet, people do become insensitive to others. They will say things that they wouldn’t say to someone’s face. With facebook, I’ve had to block certain peoples’ news feeds because they would really upset me. And, I find that the silent treatment doesn’t have the same effect online. It has come to mean, “You’re not complaining so you must be in compliance with my views.”

    Not seing somebody’s body language or hearing inflections in tone can really change how we perceive what someone is saying. I have to do a lot of group work for school and it’s all online. There have been so many misunderstandings because we can’t read if someone is joking or the attitude that comes across is not angry, just matter of fact. It’s awful and has caused me so much anxiety. I worry that everything I say will come out sounding different than how it does in my head. It’s very frustrating.


    PS I love your Karate Kid quote. WIll and I introduced the kids to that movie the other day.

    • Thom says:

      Online work teams can be tough, all right. In my semi-online degree program everyone was local, so we could meet in person (and usually did for a few times at least) and get acquainted a bit. That helped a lot. Some teams carried over from class to class, so we got to where we didn’t meet in person any more. But often we’d still meet just because those sessions were so much more productive than our online work. But even then we’d have our personality conflicts and political games and I’d sometimes spend as much time on the phone talking teammates off the ledge as I would my homework.

      It’s said that 70-90% of communication is non-verbal, and I believe that transfers to written communication. Online communication really suffers from that lack of visual context. Even emoticons don’t really cut it.

  2. Wayne Chilcott says:

    Yet again Thom you are the “King” and “Master” of the written word. It could just be that the pain killers I have taken are clouding my perception of your blog. But still I do like reading your blog’s, keep up the great work my friend.

    • Thom says:

      Hmmm…perhaps that’s what I’m missing! If I doped up on painkillers perhaps I wouldn’t be so bothered by the nasty people so much!

      Meanwhile I may have a new slogan for my blog: “Thom…you don’t have to be on drugs to read it, but it helps!”

  3. Moshe Beiler says:

    Hello, I read your new stuff like every week.
    Your story-telling style is awesome, keep up the good work!

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