The internet reminds me a lot of the school playground. It’s a place where all manner of human beings are thrown into close contact. Mostly there is no gatekeeper, no teacher on duty as it were, although in some places a moderator stops the worst of the fights. But as a consequence of the mix of personalities, and the lack of external control, playground rivalries flare up, bullies push to the front, gossip thrives and cliques form.
Clique: “a small group of people with shared interests, who spend their time together and do not welcome other people into that group, or specifically exclude them”
As a child, I can remember wondering why other children wanted to bully me, or exclude me from their cliques and gangs. I was quiet, timid, not very adept in social situations and from a single parent family. My school blazer was second hand, I had free school meals, I was reasonably intelligent and hard working. Let’s face it: I was the archetypal victim/loner. But I grew up, and I found out that most people are not like that. There are many good people in the world who are happy to hold their arms open to you, to become your friend or listen to your views, even if they don’t agree with everything you say.
Gang: “a group of young people who associate closely, often exclusively, for social reasons”
I’ve been bumbling around the internet for years now, joining this forum or that forum to find advice and to share my thinking with other people (on writing as well as on teaching). Some forums are exactly how I would wish the school playground to be – open, welcoming, supportive, knowledgeable, intelligently and sensitively moderated (the Foundation Stage Forum, for instance).
Other forums are scarier, like some kind of massive secondary school playground where the meek get trampled and the loudest voices win out. I’ve found some teaching and writing forums to be like this, and so after a while I don’t go back.
Twitter is a very very odd place. I resisted joining for ages, despite being told about how useful and interesting it was. Now that I’ve joined, I can absolutely see the value for finding new ideas, ‘meeting’ new people and examining your own thinking. There are some brilliantly thought-provoking people out there, and I’m fascinated by much of what I come to read via the site. It’s certainly very addictive.
But sometimes Twitter, and the blogs it spawns, remind me of nothing more than being back in my secondary school playground. Some days I stand on the sidelines, and look curiously at all the ‘big kids’ in their gangs and their cliques, as they whisper privately to each other. And it occurs to me that I might be best advised to keep my mouth shut, my head down, and my opinions to myself. But then again, as the old saying goes:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”