Years ago, I worked as an editor for a large internet publisher and managed as many as 100 writers, freelancers who worked remotely. I rarely spoke to them face to face, but I felt like we knew each other — in some cases, as well as coworkers I saw every day.
Of course, all coworker relationships can get tense, and sometimes there would be conflict. In those cases, some virtual colleagues would be quite candid, especially in the forum the company kept for feedback and questions. Occasionally, someone would go HAM on the staff, cussing us out at length. Note: at least some of that time, we deserved it. Still, always disconcerting to wake up and find out that you’re getting dragged, even in a closed forum.
Invariably, when I met one of the more critical writers IRL, I was surprised to find them polite, sometimes almost meek. Being able to hide behind a digital curtain made them bold; being forced to put on pants and voice their concerns in person gave them a bad case of shyness.
Now, I work from home and I am the pants-free person and I totally get the phenomenon. It’s way easier to fire off an email than it is to pick up the phone or meet someone in person. Imagine being forced to look your colleagues in the eye as you complain to them about their behavior. The very idea!
In Mommyland, where I currently reside, there’s a similar thing. Online, you’ll be judged for every choice you make — feeding, sleeping, medical, disciplinary, and on and on and on. Still, with all my experience living and working online, I was shocked to discover that IRL, moms are largely supportive of one another.
In my mom group, I’ve never heard anyone pick on anyone’s choices — but I have heard moms defend each other against imaginary enemies and critics, often loudly and with great passion.
A typical conversation goes like this:
Mom #1, who ferberizes and has a nursery: Don’t judge me, but I let him cry it out.
Mom #2, who cosleeps and baby wears and does not cry it out: Good for you! Whatever works, mama.
Me, a crazy person: I WILL SLAP ANYONE WHO JUDGES YOU.
It’s just easier to make real connections with people offline — and easier to go a little crazy when you spend too much time in the virtual world.
When Donald Trump became president, I lost my mind for a while. I spent hours every day scanning Twitter and Facebook and Google News looking for signs of our imminent doom. And then, of course, I spent a lot of time fighting with people online — jumping into other people’s space and telling them why they were wrong and unfriending people and so on.
Finally, Adam suggested that I spend more time in real-life spaces, and less time online. His job as a nurse is entirely in the real world, and he doesn’t spend very much time on the internet at all.
“Look,” he said. “At my job, I have to take care of people who believe all kinds of things that I don’t necessarily believe — sometimes people who’ve done things I can’t imagine. But I’m dealing with them in real life, which means that we can’t hide behind that anonymity. And the thing is, if you spend enough time with people, it’s hard not to recognize their humanity. You see what we have in common, not what divides us.”
What I’m saying is, if you’re like me and you tend to fall into internet rabbit holes, follow Adam’s advice and get outside once in a while. Also, if you can swing it, marry a nurse.