Internet imitates life?

A substantial number of these columns have been devoted to examining to what an extent online life is similar to, or different from, what's still (for some strange reason) referred to as real life. Most of these have reached the conclusion that they're really not very different at all. That being the case, there's something strange in referring to usenet as an "unnatural world". It may not be physical, but the same laws seem to apply.

And yet, with Godwin's law, something different seems to be taking place, something that is probably related to the degree of choice involved in joining our communities. Quite often, the communities with which we identify in our offline lives are not communities of choice. Though many times we join groups because we identify with their goals, or because they're comprised of people with similar interests, we don't choose our family, and only rarely our neighbors, or our place of work, and our contact with these make up a great percentage of our physical interactions. In these more traditional interactions we're probably more hesitant to enter heated arguments (or call up Godwin's law) because tomorrow we're going to have to be speaking with the people we're arguing with today. It's preferable not to say things we're going to be sorry about. In addition, the fact that our contact with others entails numerous points of contact, and not only a discussion around a particular issue acts as a buffer that keeps us from accusatory arguments. What's more, because our social contacts stem from a variety of commonalities, our real life arguments (if we have them) don't necessarily stem from an expectation of agreement. When we become part of a discussion in an ongoing online community, we tend to join that discussion as a result of a basic agreement with the people who have initiated it, and the various protections that shield us from slipping into heated argument in the offline world don't come into play.

Go to: How to lose an online argument.