Friday, February 15, 2013

A Letter to My Younger Brother

Before you go online let me give you a few pieces of advice. You may be a know-it-all kid who thinks they’ve got all of technology understood and my advice is simply codgerly rambling. In fact, I’m pretty much certain that’s exactly what you are. You’ve probably been working on ways of getting around some of our parent’s rules about Internet usage. I don’t blame you, that’s a fair description of me at your age, too. Still, if you indulge me I think you’ll find my Pro tips fairly common sense and you’ll save yourself a lot of time.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Make sure you always use proper grammar. This is one of the simplest and most basic rules of the Internet. The easiest way to make fun of someone you don’t know online is to attack their grammar. Don’t let “text talk” slip into what you write, no matter how tempting. I will find out, and then I will take time out of my day to personally make fun of you for it.

With the obvious out of the way, let’s move on to the slightly more advanced advice. 

First off, look before speaking. This was described back in my day by the mandate to “lurk moar” (I know the spelling is wrong. Getting into all of the nuance of grammar online is for the master class only, so shut up). What I mean by this is that you want to spend a lot of your time online, starting out, just looking around. Joining in on or, god forbid, starting a conversation with anyone online has a lot of unspoken rules and social mores that are different from site to site. The way you’d talk with people on Club Penguin isn’t the same way you’d talk in the YouTube comments section. You don’t need to talk with anyone if you don’t want to, and when you do want to, make sure you have a general idea of what the people are like first.

Secondly, don’t ever give out any personal information. I can already hear you tuning out, sure that you’ve already got that rule down from your parents hammering it into your head after what must have been a boring and forever-taking lecture, but hear me out. Your personal information doesn’t matter to most people you’ll meet online. You probably won’t get “hacked” and you’re unlikely to run afoul of sketchy dudes who will use your information to follow you around in an equally sketchy van. There’s two very simple reasons why you don’t give out so much as your age or even your first name. First, anything learned about you can and will be used to troll you. Think of it like your online Miranda rights, only you start off guilty and you’re being judged by a court of jerks. Secondly, you can just lie. Seriously, lying about yourself on the Internet is great. It’s kept my identity safe over the years and I love doing it. Sometimes I’m a middle-aged dude with a degree in Business. Other times I’m a teenager from California. Once or twice I’ve put a beautiful girl as my avatar. And my birthday is always January 1st.

Point is, you owe the people you meet online nothing. Look around, explore, and when you feel like you’re ready to join in on the conversation, maybe by then you’ll have the savvy to know what not to say.