Cyberspace is a Funhouse Mirror

I’m not the sharpest sword in Chow Yun-Fat’s drawer without my keyboard in front of me. Most of those I’ve met from Fetlife have told me I don’t have a hell of a lot in common with my online persona. It’s not that I try to project a different personality. It’s just that my brain is a teacup ride, not a rollercoaster. It needs a lot of time to put a sentence together, and all you see at the end of all my efforts is the finished product.

My online self thinks as quickly as you can read her. If my offline self functioned that swiftly, I’d be running coaching weekends for pocket change, not writing on bloody Fetlife.

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In cyberspace, anyone who can syntax can come across as Gucci to their real-world bargain-basement self. You read the edited, spell checked, elegantly metaphored words, but in real life, we’re um talking kind of like maybe what’s the word for that… um. Yes.. So what was I saying again?

Online disinhibition also makes many of us live more loudly online than off—yet another reason internet blogs are a crappy way to grok character. I suspect our digital personas might represent our values better than our personalities. I’m a dithering, clumsy, way less feminist person than you see on this site, but I do genuinely care about the things I write about. I just don’t care enough to talk about them more often than I do the howling dog choir next door—and that’s by far my favourite thing on the planet right now.

Most of us behave as though the internet gives us the bottom line about a stranger’s character. The truth? That “victims advocate” will steal your laptop for cigarette money. The silent one you’ve never even met supports more rape survivors than the feminist who shows up at every online debate. The guy who spells like a five-year-old is actually a dyslexic charmer. The only way to get a marginally more accurate idea of who we’re dealing with is to watch behaviour instead of words. That doesn’t overcome the fact that we can’t represent the blindspots in our characters because we can’t even see them.

The internet is home to some of the world’s utmost demonstrations of human greatness and compassion. Sometimes it lets us become more than we might ever be offline, and sometimes it does the opposite, making principled people seem like retiring passivists. Cyberspace is nothing more than a bunch of funhouse mirrors. Which reflections are accurate? I think I know.

But I’m often wrong.

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