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Internet Fights & Their Delights

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we know them, we love them

A true warrior always makes sure to properly hydrate.
A true warrior always makes sure to properly hydrate.
David Greedy/Getty Images

So I started a new job last week. (Since I’m sure you’re dying to know about my fascinating life, it’s "utility locating," the folks who spray-paint legal graffiti on lawns and roads indicating where pipes are buried. I’ll probably get fired soon, because I'm rather goofily incompetent at everything, but learning a bit about the graffiti IS fascinating! Now I can decipher some of it, and that’s cool!) Anyhoo:

The man training me was having one brutal text-messaging fight with his ex. We’re driving around, going from site to site, painting the ground, him patiently showing me what I did wrong. He’d tolerate my ignorance, congratulate me on the few things I did correctly, then we’d get back in the car and he’d check his phone.

"The F*****G B***H! Stop TEXTING ME YOU PIECE OF S**T!"

Then he’d dictate a response into his smartphone. And his voice would go super-angry. "I’m the one who’s wrong Question Mark. You’re the one who’s wrong Period. Get there by noon and give me my money or I’m coming to your job Period."

My first thought was "I didn’t know you could dictate texts. Huh!" My second thought was "if you can dictate texts, I don’t imagine the voice-recognition software adds ANGRY VOICE to your text."

And my final thought (I have few thoughts, they are small in number) was "if you don’t want her to keep provoking you, why do you keep provoking her?"

It’s easy to see from the outside, isn’t it? Yet that’s often how broken relationships go. The elderly among you will remember this classic Gordon Lightfoot line: "Never thought I could act this way, and I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it." When relationships turn toxic, the pain cycle gets out of control. You aren’t only being insulted (which always burns), you’re being insulted by the person you used to trust most. Whom you opened your vulnerable side to. And now they’re stabbing right at your vulnerabilities, because they’re hurt, and they want to make you feel how hurt they are by hurting you. So, naturally, you respond in kind. Ain’t love grand?

Hey, I give the guy all credit for keeping to it text messaging. I’ve done wrestling on the sidewalk until cops came and broke it up (for the record, I got my ass kicked, I’m a wimp.) Text message fights don’t even rate a C- on the James scale of terrible behavior.

But the experience made me think a little about Internet fights. Because the pattern of this unfortunate couple’s text fight was a lot like Internet fights. Everybody wants to win, to get the last word. Hence ensuring the fight keeps going and getting more brutal.

NOBODY EVER WINS INTERNET FIGHTS.

Embarrassing admission; I’m pretty much a Net noob. For years I mooched unsecured Wi-Fi off apartment neighbors, and so I didn’t want to slow down their service; I’d only connect now and then, for quickly-downloaded stuff like e-mail or box scores.

I finally paid for my own Internet when I decided to finish my college degree at Metro State (a great institution, BTW, with amazing professors, although if you want a degree to advance your career prospects you probably shouldn’t major in history.)

I got introduced to the seductive world of Internet interaction via online courses. There are strict rules to online courses; you have to post so many times a week, and respond to posts from others so many times, etc.

Most of all, you can’t be vicious, and you’re in the same situation as your classmates. We weren’t going to Harvard. This was a community college (that I’ll argue is better than Harvard in many ways) and we were all relatively poor people trying to get our degrees for whatever reason. If you disagreed with somebody, you were still basically on the same side.

That’s kinda put me a little behind on the Internet. I had to look up what tl;dr meant; you’d never use that in a college course. When I first started poking around on blogs such as this one, I didn’t get the "quick and witty" style often used — how what can seem like a putdown is actually a sarcastic complement. (I’m still no good at it, for I’m neither quick nor witty, but I can fake it somewhat. Until I f**k up completely and insult somebody harmfully without meaning to.)

And I’d keep thread fights going. I wuz right! They wuz wrong! Now, I don’t see it as having any point. YOU CAN’T WIN AN INTERNET FIGHT.

To me, assertion of "I’m right and yer wrong" belies some basic insecurity. Why do we need to be right? Most of the time, in most of your life, you’re gonna be wrong anyway. (This is why casinos are profitable, and the most desperate gambling addicts will claim "I’ve got a system." No, they don’t. If they did, the casinos would ban them.)

I suspect it has something to do with the same weird brain programming which makes it sting when a stranger flips us off in her/his car. We’ll never see that person again. Why does their insult feel really crummy and depressing?

Maybe it’s specifically because we know they don’t know us. So we wonder if something about us — maybe the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the word structure we use on Internet posts — says something dark and despicable about who we are. Something the other person picked up on, and we aren’t aware of. We’re noobs at life the other person is mocking for our ridiculous ignorance.

Of course, this isn’t true. The stranger flipping you off or fighting with you on the Internet doesn’t know a friggin’ thing about you. They’re just in an angry mood, because they’re under stress, or they’re simply angry people, whatever.

I can recall my last major Internet fight. It was on this site, after Stu posted a funny thing about the band R.E.M. breaking up and the Twins. I don’t remember the post. I’m a big R.E.M. fan (yes, I suck, sue me) and I got into it with a fellow community member who hated that band.

Guess what. At some point it came out that his life had been changed by the rewards/challenges of having an autistic child. And I’d worked providing services to people with autism for 10+ years. And suddenly we weren’t enemies; who gives a fuck if you like or hate R.E.M. We were immediately on the same side.

I’m not trying to lecture, here. I’m just wondering about why we engage in Internet fights (as we all have.) I don’t gots no answer. I only think 'bout it, and typing about it helps me think. Not that thinking ever helped me decipher what ←6" PLAS HP→ meant.