If I could read your mind

I used to think that it was unfortunate that humans couldn't communicate telepathically. What a time saver, just think of what you would like to say, and it's been said. Nothing lost in translation as the thought travels from the brain, through the nervous system, vocal cords, then the tongue and mouth. Then there's the even slower movement or written thought. But in recent months, I've experienced what I think might be one of the downfalls that telepathic thought would bring to the Human race. I think we require that filter that makes us take just a little more time to think things through before we present them to the recipient.

Just think about it, how many times during a somewhat heated discussion have you slowed yourself down, and struggled for different words than you were actually thinking in order to maintain civility in the conversation. For instance, in a difficult discussion with your boss you may be thinking "you S.O.B.! You haven't given me a **$%^%*## raise in over a year! Your wife is ugly, and your breath stinks too!" But what you actually end up saying is more like "I think I've shown my value to the company, and I think it's time that you consider giving me a raise." Then maybe the boss slowly ponders the suggestion while nodding a bit, as you reach into your pocket for a Tic-Tac. "Would you like one?" you ask him as you hand him the Tic-Tac box. "By the way, how's your wife and family?" I think if the boss could read your mind, and you could read his, civility would be out the window, along with your raise, your job, and maybe you.

How many times have you written an angry letter to someone only to discover you were out of stamps. Then, after your mad dash to the Post Office, you calm down a bit and write a different letter, or maybe even discard the letter all together.

Recently, I signed on to an online service, and started reading news groups (or bulletin boards) and sending e-mail. E-mail is like typing a letter that you can send for immediate delivery to someone else electronically with no stamp.

A news group is kind of like a bulletin board that people post messages to on certain topics. One can set up their computer to automatically display all of the messages posted to a certain news group. For instance, if you're interested in horses, you could 'subscribe' to a news group where people post messages about horse stuff. You could also post a message of your own on the news group to be read by all who subscribe. It's not exactly like a bulletin board though, let me explain.

A cork bulletin board has informational messages usually formatted to communicate to a broad base of people in a non-offensive manner. There are many people posting to the board, but the format is fairly similar for each posting, and usually regulated by the business or building management that hung the board. Things for sale, events happening, lost pets, apartments for rent, looking for Mr. right, etc....

On a news group however, there are several types of participants with several types of agendas. One must be careful to not make a fool of one's self.

The Information Type
The first, and most common type, are the information types who post useful information that others can then use to improve their situation. Information types are the reason why most people are attracted to the bulletin board forum. It's fantastic to be involved in a forum with thousands of potential participants all learning from one and other. For example, someone may post a question about a hard to find part for their wheel chair. Someone on this same news group may then post an answer, and everyone on the news group has been updated on that hard to find part (making it not so hard to find). Information types help make the world a little smaller, and exchanging messages with them is a fantastic learning experience that our grand parents never dreamed possible. One must be careful though to still take opinions from bulletin board users with a grain of salt.

The Gossip Session
Another type of user is the gossip. This person uses the news group as a forum for small talk and rumors, kind of like the old 'gossip session' on that old show my parents used to watch, 'Hee Ha'. Most news groups that I've subscribed to don't have a lot of gossips, but the groups that do allow them seem to post a lot of messages, and take themselves very seriously. They generally 'weigh in' on almost every issue brought up by the other participants, and once in a while will try to 'juice it up' with a little conflict.... maybe, if they are feeling feisty, 'throw a match' with their message. Look for posts that start with "I don't know where so & so heard such & such, but I know for a fact that" etc.... Sometimes the original author takes the bait, fires back, and a 'flame war' ignites. I looked up the 'flame war' in my internet tour guide, and it is the term used for people fighting in a news group or bulletin board discussion.

The Bomb Thrower
Another type, my least favorite type, is the bomb thrower. The bomb thrower doesn't engage in gossip per say, but simply posts a message that is intentionally written to hurt someone's feelings or reputation. The message that a bomb thrower posts usually contains no information that anyone else has requested, nor would ever request. The message will sometimes be true, untrue, or a little bit of both, but it will always be one sided, loaded, well planned, highly focused, and just plain mean. It's not the message that really drives the bomb thrower, it's the reaction of the other participants, especially our next character. When I read the message of a bomb thrower, It feels like the calm before a storm. All you can do is wait, and see if the bomb hits it's mark.

The Powder Keg
With all the matches flying around, and the bombs being thrown, our next participant I'll call the powder keg. The powder keg is the 'mark' who gets hit with a 'bomb', or maybe a few too many 'matches', and then just explodes. Common decency, civility, grammar, spelling, and control are all thrown to the wind as the 'powder keg' thrashes out his/her message. You can almost hear the teeth grinding, and the fists pounding when you read the contorted message of a 'powder keg' exploding. They're the words of a person trying to be articulate at a time when they feel violated, verbally assaulted, or stabbed in the back.

I think a 'gossip' has to be a gossip at heart, and a 'bomb thrower' has to be a person driven by conflict, but I think we all are potential 'information types' and, unfortunately, 'powder kegs'.

Lern frum my eckspeeriens
Now, it's easy, at least at first, to get sucked into some very heated discussions. My first experience with this was reading some postings in a political forum. I ran across a posting that I thought was just plain stupid. Like most of us humans, I thought I should try to convince this misguided individual to my way of thinking. As I read on though, I got angry. It seems that there were more people in this group that didn't agree with me, and one them (bomb thrower) even made a derogatory comment about another bulletin board participant who DID feel like I did. "Now that does it!" I thought. I sat down and hammered out a doozie! "Let me see this damn thing" I said, as I grabbed the mouse & clicked on the 'post message' icon.

My fingers were flying, as I cranked out a masterpiece of words and wisdom! "Now this.... yes.... I think so..... YES! This will definitely be the definitive word on the subject" I thought to myself, "how could ANYONE argue with kind of logic and understanding?" My keyboard was ON FIRE! I was sure, as I typed on, that my posting would end this discussion for good.

Once finished, I yanked the mouse across the desk, pointed at 'send message' and smacked the clicker down hard, as if to say "read it and weep ........ SUCKERS!"

Then there it was, at the end of the list of postings, was my masterpiece. I thought to myself, "now I'll read what that other fool wrote, and then read my tasty gem." I noticed that on the second read, 'that other fools' posting didn't make me quite as mad as the first time I read it......and maybe, just maybe, I had emphasized a few things that maybe didn't require quite as much 'punch'. But I was still quite satisfied that my posting was 99.9% on track, and couldn't wait to double click it next.

"Here it goes, my big debut in Cyberspace" .......... 'Click' 'Click'

"Your a stupid lunkhed! Ive hear smarter things com e out of monkies but!!!!" etc...

Unfortunately, the rest of my posting didn't reflect quite the same tact and eloquence as these first 2 lines.... not to mention the fact that spelling, grammar, and punctuation kind of went downhill from there. "Gee, this isn't good" I thought, as I cringed and turned red with embarrassment at the thought someone might actually read this festering carbuncle. "No problem, I'll just edit it. Let's see, where's the edit icon". Unfortunately, there was no 'edit' icon. There were also no 'remove message', 'delete message', or 'get rid of that piece of crap that I just sent' icons either. My 'tasty gem' was really a stinking rotten bag of burning doody left on my own doorstep by no one other than myself.

Well, I never returned to that bulletin board to see what the other participants thought of my prose, and I never will. But I did learn some very, very important things. Never respond to a bomb thrower, either positive or negative. Always type a message in your word processor, spell check it, and let it really sink in before you post your immortal, un-editable first impression for everyone to read.