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Where do rants come from?

Posted by Vinícius Teles over 6 years ago.

Have you ever realized how aggressive people tend to be on the net? You probably have. Specially if you're used to participate in online forums. And who isn't?

Rants keep popping at different points quite often. Does it reflect a behavior that is also present in the physical world? Do people engage in rants as often in the physical world as they do on the net?

I don't think so. And most of all, I think the way people approach those rants online are far more violent than the they do in the fewer occasions when they participate in physical world rants. Why is that so?

I believe there are at least two components to the answer. The first one is the nature of the communication itself. The second is the nature of the relationships.

The nature of communication

When we write, we activate different pathways in our brain compared to the ones we use when we speak. This difference seems to influence significantly the message we're trying to convey and most of all, the way we go about it. To understand more about it, check out the excellent Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.

Have you ever caught yourself writing something to someone that you wouldn't say to that person? There you go. It seems to me that we're more sincere when we write. It's as if the act of writing itself opened a window in our soul that allows our real thoughts to flow through. At first sight this would be a good thing. But when it comes to online communications this can be pretty harmful.

Messages written on a paper or online aren't effective ways to convey emotions. This means that identifying the emotional state of the author of the message is an exercise of guessing. A text that looks as if it's been written by a very angry person might have been written by someone who's not angry at all and vice-versa.

Overtime I've learned, the hard way, to not trust my judgement when reading online messages. I should always do my best not to try to guess the emotional state of the authors of the messages I receive. I've been involved in so many problems because of misunderstood emails that I began to use electronic messages much more carefully.

There's one more problem associated with the medium of communication. And this is more of an internet problem. It's easy and fast to communicate on the net. Although we can claim this is good in so many ways, it's also dangerous.

When we write an email, all too often we press the send button without reviewing the message and giving ourselves some time to thing and reflect on what we've just written. This is really bad. Specially because we're opening our souls and being maybe too much honest. It's not to say that honesty is a bad thing. It's just that sometimes, some messages need to be crafted more carefully, specially if the content is somehow sensitive. In our hush we forget to apply some filters that might contribute to the proper understanding of our intents. The funny thing is that if we were to say the same thing to the same person we would probably have filtered many parts or just been careful with the way we talk.

The nature of relationships

The second reason why I think rants arise have to do with the fact that people communicating online often don't know each other personally. And that can make a huge difference.

Take the case of DHH, creator of Ruby on Rails. People tend to create all sorts of bad images of him based on his writings on the net. I had the chance to talk to him in Portland and in Chicago a few months ago. What I realized then is that he's actually a very nice guy. He was very kind to me and anyone else who would talk to him. So I'd say that DHH in person is very different from who we think he is considering only his online "version". As a matter of fact this kind of realization has also come to me in many different occasions when I would have the opportunity to meet somebody that I only communicated with on the net.

Conferences are really great in this sense and thats the part that I enjoy the most. You get a chance to meet people and get to know who they really are. Most of the time I find out they're much nicer in person than I would have expected.

After meeting some people in conferences I would never think of them in the same way again. I always become more understanding and forgiving about their messages online. Since the messages can't erase the fact that I know that person and I know he or she is better than their messages would make me think of them.


To wrap it up, don't give too much credit for your interpretation of the emotional state of the author of a message. Be very suspicious of it. Also, try to pay attention to your writing and even better, if you have something controversial to communicate try to say it in person or just make a phone call. And finally go to conferences and try to meet people and get to know who they really are. By the way, Rails Summit Latin America will take place a few weeks from now. It will be a great place to meet people that you probably only know online. You'll probably be surprised once you meet them in person!

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Comments (1 up to now)

  1. Guilherme Chapiewski said 1 day later:

    Absolutely true :)