Thursday, February 28, 2013

Internet Arguments: Not Always Bad

I know! We've probably all been told to get off the computer and stop arguing with strangers. It's a waste of time, they say. You'll never change anyone's mind, they say.

A lot of the time that's completely true. Often when you get into a bickering match on an online forum, you're just going to get frustrated and spend a significant chunk of your day fuming to yourself over something some random person in East Jesus, Iowa, said about the Affordable Care Act and nothing productive will come of it.

Someone is wrong on the internet.
Image credit: xkcd.

But. But! Sometimes they work out. First of all, they can actually be a good way to teach yourself what to avoid. Maybe you realize that half of your high school class hasn't actually outgrown the privileged mindset of their wealthy suburban upbringing the same way you have. So then you decide to remove the bulk of them from your friends list on Facebook. And now you only see things from people you actually want to stay in touch with instead of rolling your eyes and self-involved, judgmental drivel. I may or may not be speaking from experience here.

Secondly, sometimes you can strengthen friendships. Just like how deep heart-to-heart conversations in person can make you feel a tighter bond, so can online discussions. Without revealing too many details, I have a lot of friends with whom I mainly communicate via social media. I've gotten into arguments with them. Sometimes big ones. But we come through, and usually after the air has cleared and everyone has assessed their feelings, we've exchanged messages and come out closer than ever.

And last but not least, you can actually learn things about the world if you are willing to listen. Yes, sometimes you will be bickering over something stupid and the person you are fighting with will be completely obtuse. Those are the ones from which you should just walk away. But something you are the person who screwed up, and the argument is because of your defenses. If that happens, you have a chance to learn. Think about what people are saying. Think about what you said and how it may have been hurtful. Think about what you can do or say in the future not to have a repeat of this incident. Do that. Congratulations, you just grew as a person.

So, no. It's not always worth your time to have internet fights. But sometimes it is. What we should all be working on is knowing the difference between a waste of time and an opportunity. That's how we grow, and how we grow up.

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