Finding uncommon ground on the InternetPublished 4:08pm Saturday, May 25, 2013
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
Do you know what legal drug we abuse more than any other? It’s not alcohol or nicotine. Caffeine? No, it’s not caffeine either.
It’s Internet commenting. The blinking cursor beneath a link or an article invites us to the party. Come on, everybody’s doing it. It only takes one comment to become addicted even though we think we can stop any time. Another user counters that comment, and we have to respond. We have to because we have to win. We have to win. WE HAVE TO.
No one commenting on the Internet ever wins.
Normally I just say no. That is, I do not engage. I write about the little things most of the time, little things that don’t tend to get people riled up, but now and then I dip my toes into the big ideas and in come the letters and comments.
I’ve been called too religious and not religious enough. People think I’m a huge liberal except for the people who are sure I’m way too conservative. I’ve been told to lighten up and get serious. I’ve been called irresponsible for telling a joke in poor taste and criticized for not being edgy and irreverent. I’m beginning to think my columns are either really mysterious or incredibly unclear.
I do not engage because I know I can’t handle it. I’ll lose my temper and any good sense I have, and I’ll become the worst version of myself. When people get nasty, and it’s so easy to get nasty when you don’t have to look someone in the face, I thank them for reading and move on.
That’s what I did this week after being called disgusting, repugnant and tyrannical for suggesting in my last column that children and guns don’t mix. Thank you for reading. Move on.
Then came the guy who told me I had no idea what I was talking about because I am a rich white woman. I didn’t read it. A friend of mine told me about it as I was mopping the floor. I can’t deny the white woman part. Until reincarnation or science fiction catches up with reality, Caucasian and female are all I got to work with.
However, immediately upon hearing I was rich, I decided to stop mopping and put on clean socks. I don’t know why, it just seemed like a rich person thing to do. Then I finished mopping the floor.
I laughed it off and went on with my day until curiosity got the better of me. The girls were napping, so I decided to use a few of those ticking seconds of gold to actually read the comment that judged the value of my opinion based on race, gender and a socio-economic demographic of which I was nowhere near. For I had been to the theater a few days prior to see “The Great Gatsby,” so I knew that rich people did not mop floors wearing dirty socks.
That is when I broke my own rule. I engaged. As I typed my reply in quick, slicing strokes my heart began to race and angry breaths stabbed at my lungs. A rage possessed me. The insults came easy, the belittling remarks quick. This is why I don’t drink, I thought. I’m a lightweight. I can’t hold my liquor or my invective.
A little while later a response showed up. I was ready for the next fix. This person gave as good as he got. He threatened to post everything he’d learned about me on the Internet. Friends, there’s a lot about my personal life online. I know. I wrote it all and put it there. I became even angrier and meaner. Shame started to seep into me, but I couldn’t stop myself.
I dashed off one final assault before I had to get dinner for the girls. I told him I was giving him the last word as a gift, which, of course, was a passive aggressive way for me to get the last word.
“The King and I” was spinning on the record player as I spooned carrots into the girls’ mouths and sang, “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me. Getting to know you, putting it my way but nicely…” Oh. Oh no.
Rodgers and Hammerstein, is there no limit to what you can teach us?
I felt horrible. I didn’t try to get to know this person. I didn’t express myself nicely. I rode the high of Internet rage and screamed my opinions at him. The more he screamed back, the higher I got. I should have asked him questions. I should have searched for common ground. I should have communicated not confronted. At the very least I should have said, “Thank you for reading,” and moved on.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.