Cool Story, Bro: favorite spec fic from January – April

In January and February I was exhausting myself with work-related reading and didn’t have a lot left over for enjoying speculative fiction. But in the two months since, I’ve found myself drawn to stories about identity and self-discovery. Here are a few good ones:

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John Wiswell, “Gender and Other Faulty Software” (Fireside, April)

This is a story about a genderqueer space explorer and a spaceship with gender dysphoria and it is completely freakin’ hilarious.

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Brendan Williams-Childs, “The Wedding After the Bomb” (Glitter & Ashes anthology; I read it in Catapult)

For those of us who want stories of hope, in the form of imperfect, organic, adaptable carrying-on in the face of apocalyptic events, this story hits the spot. It tells the story of a genderqueer person who braves the Canadian wilderness to travel on foot, on a route that skirts the edge of a nuclear explosion, to their lesbian friends’ wedding. The depictions of queer community and its complexities in this one are just really good, and what the protagonist learns about themself and their place in the world is very satisfying.

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Maria Romasco-Moore, “The Moon Room” (Kaleidotrope, Spring 2020)

This is the story of Sasha, a strange amorphous being disguised as a human, who doesn’t remember her own origins and is obsessed with uncovering them. There’s also a lot of fun stuff about analog photography and drag shows. Sasha’s quest to understand herself is an obvious metaphor for being trans, and the story works really well on that level, but it’s also written vividly enough to work on a surface level – or to serve as a metaphor for other, less obvious hidden identities. The last line is utter perfection.

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Millie Ho, “Hungry Ghost” (Uncanny, Issue Thirty-Three)

I have tried and failed several times now to put into words what I feel about this poem. It’s good? It’s about death and letting go, but it’s much more than that.

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C.S.E. Cooney, “For Mrs. Q” (Fireside, December 2019)

This is top-tier sapphic love poetry, passionate and specific, drawing a sharp portrait not only of the charismatic woman who is loved, and of the effect she has on the narrator, but of where that love fits into so many other things. It bursts out like the bright red cardinal from its own first line. I’ve liked Cooney’s poetry for a long time, but she’s outdone herself with this one.

Philip K. Dick Award Livestream

The 2020 Philip K. Dick Award ceremony will be streaming live tonight at 7pm PST! The streaming link is up on Norwescon’s web page; you can see it here.

The livestream will include a video of me reading a dramatic scene from THE OUTSIDE, as well as similar contributions from the other nominees.

I hope some of you will be watching along!

Back Room

My short story, “Back Room,” is up now on the Broken Eye Books Patreon.

“Back Room” was solicited for an anthology of contemporary weird fiction involving children, under Broken Eye Books’ Patreon-first model – Patreon backers will get the fiction almost immediately, and eventually it will be collected in book form. Having previously contributed to the “Ride the Star Wind” anthology, I know Broken Eye Books does quality work.

“Back Room” is the story of two non-neurotypical sisters who get lost in a store at the mall, which goes much further back and into much weirder store-like dimensions than either of them anticipated.

The feeling of being overwhelmed and disoriented in retail spaces is a common one for me and no doubt for many autistic people. The Lagoona Beauty Boutique in this story is very loosely based on Lush, but I want to stress that I have nothing against Lush in particular – I am overwhelmed by almost every store and this one simply happened to be quirky and distinctive enough to be easy to write about.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 60 and a half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, “Mr. Try Again” (Nightmare, March 2018)

[Autistic author] When Merc does straight-up horror, they do NOT fuck around. This story will make your skin crawl. It involves a gruesome monster who eats boys and imprisons girls, a girl who got away from him, how she lives as an adult with her trauma and the things she has been made to do – and how she responds when things come full circle and she returns to confront the monster again. It’s really effectively done, and the imprisoned girls get their revenge in the end. [Recommended-2]

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Bogi Takács, “Continuity Imperative” (The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol 7. No. 1, 2017)

[Autistic author] A short poem about the attempt of an engineer to fix an injured biological spaceship. Visceral and urgent, easily capturing the engineer’s desperation. [Recommended-2]

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Brendan Williams-Childs, “Schwaberow, Ohio” (Meanwhile, Elsewhere, 2017; I read it reprinted on Medium)

Walt, a trans autistic teen in the rural Midwest, deals with dysfunctional, ableist caregivers and with the political spectre of invasive neurological treatments which are becoming increasingly common as “cures” both for autism and for gender dysphoria. This type of story and setting are a hard sell for me but Walt is a kind of autistic protagonist we need to see more of – not only for his transness but for his cultural position (he’s a confused, working-class boy in the country, not any kind of STEM genius) and for his difficulties with expressive speech. The narration is matter-of-fact and shows the atypical patterns of Walt’s thinking and the wrongness of the dismissive ways he’s treated, along with an alertness and thoughtfulness beyond what is apparent to the other characters.

The story is of course anti-cure, but I am slightly uneasy with how the cure theme is handled. Walt’s unwillingness to be cured is based mainly in a knee-jerk horror of the idea of brain implants coupled with strong dehumanization of public figures who do have them. He’s right to be horrified by non-consensual neurological treatment, but the dehumanization angle bothers me, especially when it lumps in other forms of assistive cyborg technologies along with the brain implants. I don’t think that this is a story that would come off well for readers with prosthetic limbs, for instance. [YMMV]

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Richard Ford Burley, “A Study in Pink and Gold” (Abyss & Apex, June 2019)[Autistic author] This is the story of a painter and a group of aliens, called “Drifters,” which have mysteriously appeared on Earth and are unaggressive but difficult to communicate with. The painter’s patient, careful observation of them on their own terms leads to a strange, lifelong cross-species friendship. There’s no overt autism in this story, but the wordless and peaceful interactions between human and alien in the story will ring true to many autistic people’s experiences, either with each other or with other kinds of people and creatures; or, for some, it is a kind of interaction we long to have. [Recommended-2]

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Yoon Ha Lee, “The Mermaid Astronaut” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 27, 2020)

[Autistic author] A delightfully gentle retelling of The Little Mermaid in which a mermaid grows up longing to explore the stars, and a team of aliens arrives willing to grant her wish. I like the way Esserala’s family supports her in her dreams and the way she isn’t pushed into any artificial conflict between her home culture and the spacefaring culture she joins, nor into any need to change or silence herself for a love interest. The inherent difficulties of space travel, even when everyone involved is kind and helpful, provide enough conflict to carry the story by themselves. [Recommended-2]

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Rita Chen, “Strangleknot” (Liminality, Spring 2020)

[Autistic author] An affecting and vivid poem about ongoing trauma, pain, and the way words and memories get stuck in the body. Many autistic readers will be able to relate to the feeling of not being able to let one’s hurts go, no matter how one tries. [Recommended-2]

Autistic Book Party, Episode 60: The Deep

The cover of Rivers Solomon's book "The Deep," showing a wajinru underwater looking up towards the ocean's surface.

Today’s Book: “The Deep” by Rivers Solomon

The Plot: The wajinru, a group of mermaid-like creatures in the deep sea, are the descendants of pregnant African women thrown overboard from slave ships. Only one “historian” among them is chosen to remember their traumatic past, while the others blissfully forget – but this history is a burden that can’t be borne alone.

Autistic Character(s): Yetu, the young historian whose point of view carries most of the book; and Oori, a human she befriends when she escapes to the surface.

I’ve been really excited to read this Nebula-nominated novella by Solomon, who previously wrote “An Unkindness of Ghosts.” Like the other book, this one is a meditation on individual and community trauma which centers the perspectives of Black queer and non-neurotypical characters.

Yetu is a wonderful, complex character who has been carrying her community’s memories since she was fourteen. More sensitive than other historians due to her neurotype, she struggles intensely, often getting so lost in her remembrances that she forgets to eat or care for herself – or so distressed by them that she self-harms. The rest of her community cares about her but can’t understand how to help, since they themselves have no concept of what trauma is. Once a year, there’s a religious ceremony where the memories are temporarily given back to the community. During this ceremony, Yetu escapes, fearing that if she takes the memories for herself again, she won’t survive.

I found Yetu’s struggles to be extremely realistic for a traumatized autistic person without much support. (I say this as an autistic person with my own set of secret teenage traumas, though I can’t speak from experience about the race-related aspects of the book.) She struggles not only with the direct effects of carrying traumatic memories, but also with guilt, ambivalence, and worry for her community when she escapes them. Solomon’s narration also contains some of the most intriguing descriptions I’ve ever seen about how fantasy psychic abilities and autistic hypersensitivities might combine:

Most of the time, Yetu kept her senses dulled. as a child, she’d learned to shut out what she could of the world, lest it overwhelm her into fits. But now she had to open herself back up, to make her body a wound again so Amaha’s words would ring against her skin more clearly.
Yetu closed her eyes and honed in on the vibrations of the deep, purposefully resensitizing her scaled skin to the onslaught of the circus that is the sea. It was a matter of reconnecting her brain to her body and lowering the shields she’d put in place in her mind to protect herself. As she focused, the world came in. The water grew colder, the pressure more intense, the salt denser. She could parse each granule. Individual crystals of the flaky white mineral scraped against her.
All of this may make “The Deep” sound like a very grim, depressing book. Despite the subject matter I actually did not have a grim or depressing experience reading. Maybe it’s the ocean setting, or maybe it’s the way the book focuses on the people carrying the memories and on their simple, direct relationships, rather than the details of the atrocities that caused the memories to happen in the first place. I found many parts of “The Deep” very moving, but I also found them more easily emotionally approachable than “An Unkindness of Ghosts.” I was able to devour “The Deep” at an enthusiastic pace and enjoy it fully.
(To be clear: emotionally difficult, dark, wrenching books are necessary things, and marginalized authors should be allowed to write them. I can’t believe this needs to be said, but in the light of recent furores over dark content in queer books and fanfic I feel it does. “An Unkindness of Ghosts” is an excellent book and I was glad I read that, too. I am not making a moral value judgment. I am simply describing how my subjective emotional experience of both books differed.)

Maybe it’s also the way “The Deep” ends with hope and reconciliation, as Yetu and her community work on alternative ways to hold the rememberings and care for each other. I found it especially meaningful that, although Yetu is in many ways the archetypal young protagonist who’s different and burdened, it’s her loved ones in the community who help her to find the eventual solution, and who insist to her that her safety and happiness are worthwhile. These are intergenerational, community traumas, and only the whole community working together can hold them.

Autism isn’t central to this story, but it’s unmistakable and deeply layered into the characters, both for Yetu and for Oori. Yetu is deeply affected by her sensory and emotional sensitivities, which were always present, but which are exacerbated by the memories she is chosen to carry, and which isolate her in deeper and crueller ways than the historians before her. Oori is not a POV character, and her autism is marked more by external traits: blunt speech, unfriendliness, lack of eye contact, and the puzzled reactions of other humans. Delightfully, Oori’s difficulty getting along with other humans is the very thing that draws Yetu to her:

“I just mean that she’s different, you know? Not like us. She’s not so good with, hm, how do you say, human interaction and any trappings of decorum or rules. I suppose that’s why she prefers animals to people. Most animals don’t exchange hellos and ask how the other is. They just exist next to one another.”

Yetu’s ears and skin perked at the sound of that. Oori preferred animals, did she?

“Perfect, then. I’m not human,” said Yetu.

Oori is not only Yetu’s friend and possible love interest, but she’s also the last survivor of her own human culture, and she has a perspective on the importance of memory which both challenges and helps Yetu to hear.

Queer and intersex themes are unmistakably layered in, too. For instance, there’s the odd, awkward, somewhat adorable scene in which Yetu and Oori discuss how sex works for their respective species and whether they’d like to try it with each other. The way this conversation plays out is a way that would only ever work for a pair of queer autistic characters, and that alone makes it fun to read.

There’s a lovely afterword which describes “The Deep”‘s origins: before it was a book by Rivers Solomon it was a song by the rap group clipping. and clipping.’s song is in turn based on the work of other artists. The concept of the wajinru in the sea has been told and retold from multiple perspectives, gaining something each time. In clipping.’s song, there’s a war between the wajinru and the humans because of the terrible way the humans treat the sea. In “The Deep,” this war exists as backstory; it’s another thing for both Yetu’s and Oori’s sides to remember and learn from. I love this kind of intertextuality and I hope the concept continues to inspire even more successive groups of artists.

In short, this is an excellent book, well worthy of its Nebula nomination, and you all should read it.

The Verdict: Highly Recommended

Disclosure: Rivers Solomon and I are acquainted online and have talked to each other sometimes. I read their book by buying a copy from Amazon. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 59: Tone of Voice

Today’s Book: “Tone of Voice” by Kaia Sønderby, a sequel to “Failure to Communicate”

The Plot: The Hands and Voices, a species of symbiotic whale- and squid-like beings, want to join the Starsystems Alliance. The only person they’ll negotiate with is Xandri Corelel, an autistic woman who interprets alien behavior for a living. But Xandri’s enemies are about to disrupt the negotiations in a spectacular way.

Autistic Character(s): Xandri.

Yay! Xandri Corelel is back! You might recall from my “Failure to Communicate” review that she is one of my favorite autistic characters ever, and one of the most relatable characters for me personally. Plus now there are WHALES! You really can’t go wrong with this setup, and Sønderby does not, in fact, go wrong with it.

I really like the Hands and Voices. Partly because SPACE WHALES, SPACE SQUID, it is not difficult to appease me with these topics. But they are also just a really nice, sweet-natured bunch of aliens with some very cool underwater technology. I especially love the way they approach the idea of group identity. Each Voice (whale) is paired with a small group of symbiotic Hands (squid) and their language appears to have no singular pronouns, using words that are translated as “we” whether they’re talking about an individual organism, a Voice with their attendant Hands, a whole pod of Hands and Voices, or even larger groups.

Because the Hands and Voices are so nice and cooperative, and because they already trust Xandri, the actual diplomacy in this book is much simpler than in “Failure to Communicate.” We get much less of Xandri’s efforts to puzzle through difficult social situations, because apart from a deliciously tense standoff near the end, most of this book’s social situations are pretty straightforward. A good chunk of the story is positively idyllic, with Xandri and her co-workers enjoying the pleasant beachside environment and swimming around in the ocean while they figure out how they would meet the Hands and Voices’ needs in space. Until, of course, some anti-alien militia show up…

But just because the diplomacy is simple this time, that doesn’t mean we don’t get good, nuanced Autism Content. Xandri has grown as a person since the first book, but much of that growth has been difficult; the ending of that book had her temporarily exiled after taking the fall for a diplomatic upset. She’s become more aware of the awful things doctors used to say about autistic people – and, without an autistic community around her, she spends a lot of time worrying that these things might be true. Even when her actions on the page are clearly selfless and her emotions in the narration are deeply caring – and when other characters make a point to recognize how much she cares – Xandri still worries that maybe she’s heartless because that’s what she’s read about herself. As usual for Xandri, this is very relatable to me!

Xandri is practicing assertiveness, a skill that she first tried at a pivotal moment in “Failure to Communicate.” Thanks to her long study of human behavior, she’s startlingly good at it, able to stare down scary military officers and come out ahead. But it’s an immensely draining skill for her to use, and it leaves her feeling uncomfortable and guilty.

Captain Chui – Xandri’s longtime boss – encourages her at this. She is startled when Xandri also uses her newfound assertiveness to question her own orders. I appreciate the nuance in how this is handled – especially the way Captain Chui does listen to Xandri’s concerns, even if she doesn’t ultimately agree. A worse person might easily have shut her down and told her assertiveness wasn’t appropriate here, but Captain Chui recognizes that assertiveness isn’t real unless a person can use it when they choose to, even against you.

Xandri draws insight from her own autistic experience in softer moments as well:

“Sometimes I wonder,” I said, as we started down the dock.
“Hmm?”
“If we’re doing the right thing, I mean. Bringing them into the Alliance. They seem so innocent…”
That caught her attention. She swiveled to look at me, her brows furrowed. “Because they see the world in a different way than you do? Because they interact with it differently? Because they don’t have the exact same-“
“Whoa!” I held up my hands in surrender. “Easy, fireball. Didn’t mean it as an insult, I swear. It’s just… well, look at ’em.”
“I know.” Xandri sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, mussing her ponytail. “It’s not like the thought never crossed my mind, but… it’s wrong to judge them as too innocent, simply because their expression appears innocent to us. They’re a sapient species, shown to be shrewd in negotiations, as seen by their nebula pearl trade. They’re smart, technological, and they know to be cautious about other sapients; in fact, they learned that lesson quicker than most. This is their choice to make and-and it would be wrong to try to take their choices from them.”
She stared straight ahead as she spoke and, not for the first time, I got the feeling her words weren’t just about the Hands and Voices. She spoke like that sometimes, like she was seeing a problem from the inside, like she’d experienced it herself.

 

She also gets to do one of my new favorite tropes, namely, overly literal autistic banter in an action scene:

“Maybe we should test your theory,” Santino said, raising the gun and pointing it at me.
“Hypothesis.”
“What?”
“I’m enough of a scientist to confess that I don’t have enough evidence to call it a theory just yet.”

 

I mentioned in my review of “Failure to Communicate” that there was some setup I hoped would lead to a queer romance. Surprise, it does! Kinda. In the first book, Xandri was attracted to Diver and Kiri, two of her closest friends on the Carpathia. The attraction seemed mutual but nothing quite happened. In this book, there’s a clear romantic slow burn between Xandri and Diver, and they do get into a relationship, though it’s still new and tentative when the book ends. Xandri has past trauma that makes it difficult for her to navigate a relationship’s early stages. Sønderby handles this with a light touch, showing Xandri’s hesitance and discomfort and Diver’s efforts to make space for her, but without getting bogged down in trauma details.

Xandri is still attracted to Kiri as well. The book goes out of its way to remind us that Kiri is polyamorous, and even has a scene of the three of them tiredly cuddling, but Xandri is already overwhelmed by dealing with romantic feelings for one person, let alone two, so the poly aspect of the story doesn’t get very developed here.

In other “Xandri is the most relatable character” news, some of her exchanges with Diver feel like they could have been taken word for word from me and my nesting partner:

“Don’t be acting like this is your fault, fireball.”
I lifted my head in surprise.
“Four and a half years,” Diver said, tapping the tip of my nose with a finger. “Long time to know a person, even one who hides as much of herself as you do. But you can’t hide from me, Xan. You try, but I see you. Right now I see a woman who’s too exhausted to be placing blame anywhere.”
“I can’t help it,” I whispered.
“I know. And you know I’m right.”
“Also, insufferable.”

 

Overall, “Tone of Voice” didn’t grab me in the feels as hard as “Failure to Communicate” but it’s still a lovely book that I really enjoyed. Xandri Corelel is one of my favorite autistic characters out of anything ever, and I sincerely hope to see many more books of her adventures.

The Verdict: Recommended

Disclosure: I have briefly interacted with Kaia Sønderby on Twitter. I read her book by buying an e-copy on Amazon. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. If Autistic Book Party is valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

NEW STORY: “Across the Ice”

My story “Across the Ice” is now live on the Strange Horizons website. This is a short, sweet flash story about a queer autistic woman in space, studying ancient aliens, who finds something unexpectedly affirming in the course of her research. Enjoy!

Internet friendships

(This post is dedicated to Patreon backer David Lamb, who wanted to hear my thoughts about Internet friendships. At various Patreon tiers, you can commission blog posts, too!)

A perennial pet peeve of mine is when people dismiss Internet friendships as being “not real,” or not a proper way to have friends, in comparison to face-to-face friendships.

Internet friendships are a bit different from friendships in person, though. In my experience, it’s easier to do some things online, and easier to do some things in person.

Some things it’s easier to do in person:

  • Physically hug and enjoy the contact
  • Watch a person’s face and body language in real time
  • Share event-based experiences, like going to a concert or meal together
  • Help each other with physical tasks

And some things it’s easier to do online:

  • Find friends based on a rare or specialized interest
  • Lean on a forum or chat group for support and let whoever has spoons at the time interact with you, rather than bugging a lot of people individually
  • Bond over certain kinds of interest-based activities, such as making fanfiction/fanart, or deep essay-style analysis of a topic you both enjoy

There are also things that depend on the person. Some people find it easier to express deep feelings by writing, while others find it easier to express themselves aloud. For people like me who are more articulate with written speech, it’s easier to do that online. Other people’s mileage may vary. (This isn’t “neurotypical vs non-neurotypicals,” by the way; some non-neurotypicals have more trouble with writing than speaking. They’re valid.)

Often when people criticize social media for being shallow or causing low self-esteem, they’re not talking about the whole Internet. Instead, when you really delve into their argument, it seems that they’re talking about a very specific subset of the Internet.

For example, think of a place like Instagram, which:

  • Encourages people to post shiny pictures
  • Measures attention mostly in “likes” without a lot of in depth interaction
  • Makes it easy to find people with shinier pictures than you
  • Is mostly sorted by what’s most popular or controversial at a given time
  • Makes it easy to count your number of “likes,” compare it to the very popular stuff showing up on your feed, and feel inadequate
  • Makes it hard to share personal things in a safe/private way

And compare to a place like Dreamwidth, which:

  • Lets people write about themselves, their experiences, or their favorite topic in as much depth as they want
  • Lets people comment and converse in as much depth as they want
  • Doesn’t try to rank, classify, or compare its users
  • Gives users full control over privacy, access, and what shows up on their feed

Obviously these are not the only two ways to do things online, and they are also not black and white. Some people have good experiences with Instagram and some people have bad experiences with Dreamwidth. But it should be plain that many of the criticisms of “social media” are actually criticisms of the most common uses of a small handful of the most popular platforms, and they don’t encompass every online way of relating. Some platforms meet the need for meaningful connection better than others.

My own experience with online friendships have included many positive and meaningful things:

  • Connections with friends who shared interests with me and were weird in the same ways I was
  • Connections with fellow writers who understand and share the difficulties of a writing career
  • Connections with fellow autistic people which have taught me a huge amount about myself
  • Opportunities to share critiques and work on the craft of writing, including the skill of writing inclusively and sensitively, with people whose lives are very different from mine
  • Opportunities to network and build an audience as a writer in meaningful ways with people who are often very geographically distant from me

I have also experienced negative things online. People can be abusive online and non-abusive people can get into petty fights online just as easily as in real life. However, all these positive things I’ve experienced are real and have been easier for me to find online than in person – which doesn’t mean I don’t treasure them when I also find them in person.

Simply clicking “like” on someone’s post is not a very deep interaction, but sometimes it’s okay for interactions not to be deep.

  • People have shallow face-to-face interactions all the time
  • Like by nodding to each other when they pass in the street
  • Or by exchanging a perfunctory “How are you?” “Fine, thanks.”
  • These parts of human interaction are not worthless; they are rituals we have for a reason.
  • What does become a problem is when we have way more of these shallow interactions than the amount we want or need, and not enough deep or meaningful interactions.
  • Places on the Internet that strongly emphasize shallow interactions can make it easy for this problem to happen.

When people have needs that their online interactions are not meeting, and when there’s a good chance they could meet those needs in the face-to-face world, it can be good to encourage them to put their screens down and interact face-to-face more.

But doing it by shaming people, or by invalidating their online friendships, is a bad idea:

  • It hurts people who have less access to face-to-face friendships due to structural inequality (queer people in a small conservative town, for example, or housebound disabled people) and are doing the best they can with the tools available
  • It hurts people who have found validation and support in online spaces that they were unable to find in person for whatever other reason
  • It hurts people who have an easier time writing than speaking and who are inherently more able to be “real,” in the sense of fully expressing themselves, online
  • It removes support for people who have gone through a difficult online experience, like losing a close online friend, and are struggling with real feelings of grief.

Dismissing online social interactions as “not real” also helps enable some very specific bad behaviors:

  • Internet trolls often feel more emboldened to harass people online than in real life, because online interactions don’t “feel” real to them; but the people at the other end of the interaction are still real people who can be hurt by what they do
  • Harassment and bullying have always been around, but social media allows these things to occur in novel ways
  • For example, harassers on social media can start pile-ons in which thousands of people around the world join in the harassment
  • Preventing & dealing with online harassment is a difficult problem that requires deep thought about our social media platforms, who uses them for what purpose, and why
  • It also requires careful thinking about some thorny philosophical issues (for example: what’s the difference between a harassment campaign and a call-out?)
  • No one who believes that the Internet is inherently fake and silly is going to do this careful thinking.

The people who do bad things, or are affected by bad things online, are real. And the same goes for people who treat each other well online.

Online and face-to-face interaction are different in some important ways; but we do better by each other when we take them both seriously, and this includes the idea that online friendships are valid and real.