Fifty years ago, when you wanted to drink a beer, yak about sports, and quite frankly, be with the guys, you went down to the tavern. It was easy to hang out at Mort’s Tavern. It was a little smoky, there was a black and white TV behind the bar with its rabbit ears a-tilt, and you knew everyone in the joint. Mort would have your beer and a bump of rye on the counter before the door slammed shut behind you. There was Bill who ran the service station seated at the corner table playing solitaire. Teddy from the furniture store always sat at the end of the bar closest to the loo. George leaned on the bar next to the jar with the pickled eggs.
You knew never to mention communism to Fred because he’d never shut up about why we needed to atom-bomb those Russki bastards “RIGHT NOW!” Any talk of Mays being better than Mantle (even though he was) around Turk always ended badly. If you did get suckered into a conversation about why the Dodgers should still be in Brooklyn with Wally, you just got up and walked away as you left Wally to splutter to himself.
The tavern today is different. It’s a laptop or a tablet at home in your lap and a beer balanced on the arm of the couch. The kids do their homework at the kitchen counter. Your wife is in the office on Skype with a marketing rep for her company who’s in Melbourne to pitch new software to a big vendor.
What do you do with that laptop? You chat. It’s social media and you, sir, are social. You type your thoughts, free from facial cues and context onto a screen where it is read by a few guys you know and hundreds who you don’t. That handful of guys, you know them like your dad knew Fred and Turk and Wally. You know who is married, who has kids, whose marriage is in trouble. Even though you’ve never met outside of the exchange of electrons, it’s not bad. You’re there for each other.
It may be Google’s fault that we suffer from information overload but we also suffer just as much from interaction overload. Your cadre of friends is great – everyone has a beer, you talk sports, you talk wives and family; it is interaction. You might be separated by 2,000 miles, but it’s okay. It’s among the other hundreds that you find a handful of rat-bastards. Rude, obnoxious, ill-informed, and wildly argumentative; you’d never hang out with them in real life, and here you are, stuck with them.
An off-the-cuff comment about a player who talks of his football comeback from a spousal abuse suspension with “guns blazing” and next thing you know, your pulse is racing, and you’re locked into an internet screaming match with someone you never met and never will.
“How in the Hell did I get here?” you ask yourself as you shut the lid of your computer.
The adult thing to do is first, don’t take the bait. Once you’ve broken rule number one, the next adult thing to do is ignore the flames and go about your business. Problem is, you are denied closure. A thread runs through your brain, “I should have said this. What is wrong with this crazy bastard? What the hell was that about? What if I had said that?” It spools on like a wind-up toy mouse on a Moebius strip.
Use the block bottom. We don’t use it enough, none of us. I cannot stress this enough. Hit that goddamn block button often and with no regret. Get the crap out of your life.
We are overwhelmed by the data of bad news- 9 dead in the latest school shooting, a boy shot when he waved a toy pistol, a town of 80,000 who can’t drink their water because of incipient lead poisoning, an international emergency hospital accidentally bombed by our guys – the world may be no worse today than 50 years ago but the information overload makes it seem so. It the midst of the craziness, we want a little peer-group interaction, and a madcap fool has put us off our feed.
Use the block bottom. It feels good. As you click on the warning that says “Are you sure you want to block this person?” give a KIAI, the shout martial artists use. Or you could use a favorite of mine My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die as you click the icon. Perhaps you’re more the quiet sigh of satisfaction sort of person. Whatever sort you are, you deserve it.
You can’t take the anger and violence and inhumanity and civility out of the big world but you can take it out of your world. We all deserve respect and peace and warmth. For those rat-bastards out there who live to bully and incite on-line, deny them the opportunity.
Hit the block key. Whatcha waiting for? Ya scared?
Block, and move on. Trust me on this.
Now shout it with me: BLOCK THAT DICK! Er, asshat.
Yeah, asshat, let’s go with that.
Remember, I’m rooting for you. Rooting hard.