Róisín Ingle on . . . the casual cruelty of email
A letter to the man who called me a “daft fatty” by email because I spelt Pocahontas wrong:
Happy New Year! How was 2013 for you? I hope it brought lots of opportunities for emailing pithy put-downs to people as that is an activity you obviously enjoy. There’s nothing like a bit of gratuitous rudeness to make you feel better about yourself is there? Time was when people like you had to get out the Basildon Bond notepaper and the pen with green ink to scratch that particular itch. How much easier it is now to give people who spell the names of Disney princess characters wrong a piece of your mind. And thank goodness for that I’m sure you’ll agree.
I’m intrigued to know if you saw me walking (waddling more like, eh Peter?) along the street whether you would tap me on the shoulder and say “you daft fatty!”. Or would you be too embarrassed to do that? Yes, I think perhaps you would.
Because on balance it’s definitely trickier to call someone a “daft fatty” in the real world. In the real world I might answer back and you might have to explain yourself, and other people might overhear and think you are a bit of an eejit. Awkward. com eh, Peter? Hurray then for technology which allows us to tap into the meanest aspects of our nature without having to deal with any of the consequences.
Look, Peter, I am sorry I spelt Pocahontas as Pocahauntus. When people (usually my mother) point out typos in my columns I cringe. It’s not ideal. But you didn’t just point it out did you? You wrote:
Oh come on, you daft fatty! Give a darn to get it right! Irish Times, an’ all that! It’s Pocahontas! :p ;p
Oh, Peter! You old flirt! You charmer! You wit! All those exclamation marks and those jaunty emoticons. All those attempts to intimate that you are only joshing, flourishes that just make your email even more slimy.
At The Irish Times (an’ all that!) we do indeed strive to ensure our products are spelling-mistake free but here’s the thing: sometimes people make mistakes. I know, I know. Those intolerable people should be shot at dawn, rolled in batter, deep fried and fed to the lions in Dublin zoo. At the very least they should be emailed with remarks about their generous girth and their sadly lacking mental prowess. Especially if they are women. Especially if they are overweight women. At the very least they should be made to give a darn.
You might not be interested but just in case you are, there is an alternative tack to the email you sent me. I’ve even written a draft for you. I’ve attempted to address the issue at hand (the misspelling of Pochontas) while remaining civilised, which I believe is important in all communication. You could have written something like this:
There was a spelling mistake in your last column. It’s Pocahontas not Pocahauntus.
But where’s the “fun” in that?
Some people might think I’m giving you too much attention by devoting an entire column to your “daft fatty” missive. But I was giving a talk to transition year students in King’s Hospital School in Dublin recently and you came up in conversation. One young woman asked whether I get criticism of this column and how I handle it. I told her I welcomed anything constructive, that people often have valid criticisms and that as long as people are polite, I try to respond.
But then I told her about you, and your “daft fatty” comment and those teenagers were shocked. They couldn’t believe a grown adult would sit down and write those words, as innocuous as they might seem to you. Then I talked for a bit about the online world where people like you think it’s fine to be rude and sexist and racist and ignorant and mean. Where people hide behind made-up email addresses and names. Where people say things they’d never dream of saying to people’s faces.
It’s a world that’s proving increasingly difficult for teenagers and can have depressingly tragic consequences. So it would be nice if us adults could show them a better way forward in our emails, our online comments and our general communication instead of contributing to the problem. We should give a darn to get it right.
Shouldn’t we Peter?