Monday, November 2, 2015

When you want attention

If there's one thing I've had to deal with consistently throughout my long life as an Internet Person, it's the problem of how to distribute my attention.

In the past, I've given far too much attention to people who are jerks to me. I would pour time and attention and energy into responding to people who clearly did not start this conversation because they wanted an actual respectful dialogue. I've also spent a decent amount of my time paying attention to people who are only talking to me because they want something from me and behave really ungratefully about it if I don't give enough, don't give frequently enough, or don't give quickly enough.

I decided a while back--when making a year-end review had me answering "what do you wish you'd done less of?" with "arguing with assholes"--that I needed, for my own sanity and comfort, to limit the conversations that are not productive or that take up too much of my time with too little payback.

I became a fan of quiet block-and-delete for YouTube comments that sneeringly assigned my asexuality to a symptom of my being hideous.

I stopped responding individually to contentless comments--even those that were nice. I get a lot of "this is great!" and "wow I feel like this too!" on my YouTube, and I just plain don't need to acknowledge every single one. I also get stuff like long personal stories in the comments or (unfortunately) unsolicited advice that I just ignore.

I have relied more on sending people links to things I've written already instead of explaining them individually the way I used to. I have learned to pick up on when people have misunderstood me as their personal answer bank for things they could easily Google and stopped responding to stuff like, say, Facebook messages about how to use punctuation marks or requests to proofread/fact-check the college asexuality papers of strangers.

I have refrained from engaging with OKCupid losers who refuse to read my profile and still insist on talking to me like all I am is my picture. I just delete most of them now. Though I did it for years, it is not my job to redirect them to proper online behavior that will increase their chances of matching with someone who actually wants what they want.

And I have stopped accepting unsolicited requests for feedback on such things as query letters, self-published books that strangers are willing to send me ~for freeeee~ in exchange for an honest review, or story concepts/ideas that strangers who like my work seem to want my stamp of approval on.

I do tend to respond to the following interactions:
  • Questions I can answer very quickly.
  • Requests to use or link my material. 
  • Comments from friendly people who have talked to me authentically in other contexts.
  • Thoughtful commentary featuring ideas I personally relate to and want to elaborate on.
  • Strangers who politely introduce themselves and either thank me for my work or ask for comments/thoughts/small favors without obvious entitlement.
  • Enthusiasm for something I said or did.
  • Enthusiasm for something I also like and want to talk about.
  • Requests for advice or perspectives regarding bad or disappointing experiences with asexuality, like Tumblr messages from people looking for pointers on how to come out to their parents or reassurance on whether their asexual identity is what they think it is.
  • Anything from my friends.
  • Anything I just plain get in the mood to answer.
But unfortunately, I have also had to deal with my share of temper tantrums over the years. I once had someone chew me out and call me a bitch and a liar because I did not answer her non-time-sensitive e-mail within two hours. I have had people passive-aggressively mention a favor they wanted me to perform for them, implying that I should be working on that instead of the fun thing I was posting about doing on Facebook. I have had private messages from people snotting at me for "leaving them hanging" when I stopped holding their hand through dozens of writing 101 questions. And I have had the occasional message on a blog post or friend request suggesting I'm somehow remiss in my Internet Person duties because I did not respond to some random-ass thing they said.

No one on the Internet is entitled to attention from me just because they paid attention to me first.

I am not popular enough to bring in a fan mail handler or whatever, but I do literally get several dozen attempted interactions a day. I respond to what I can, especially if it is time-sensitive or contains material I actively want to engage with, but if someone who receives no answer from me is confused or bitter about the radio silence, they might ask themselves these questions: 
  • Did you say anything that actively requested a response?
  • Do we know each other?
  • Are you sure you're engaging with me through a platform that allows responses?
  • If you're sending a polite question or comment in a way that seems like it should be acceptable, have you tried another form of contact?
  • Did you leave nuanced content that was not just rambling about yourself or offering unsolicited advice?
  • Have I promised you attention and failed to deliver?
  • Was your attempted contact free of passive-aggressive content, such as suggesting I'm probably not going to reply to you anyway or implications that I am too important to pay attention to the little guy?
  • Have you made it clear that you'd like me to contact you and made sure to provide a way to do that?
A really great way to get no response from me is to imply that I'm obligated to engage with you. Another really great way to get ignored by me is to talk about me publicly to someone else and mention me in some way that gets me tagged/notified, while commenting that I'm expected to justify myself/weigh in if I really care about this issue, but without engaging me directly and respectfully. And yet another really great way to assure that you will never get a reply from me is to leave the occasional neutral comment and then snap over my lack of acknowledgment because you expected whatever you said deserved my attention.

I don't actually ignore many things, even now that my standards are different regarding what I reply to. Politeness, explicit inquiry, appreciation, specific requests, and enthusiasm on shared interests will generally yield attention from me. But if you don't give me anything to reply to, or post nothing but empty content offered like a payment for required services instead of conversation, I'm probably going to feel like the interaction is going to be unproductive or exhausting for me. I am not too busy to talk to people, but I am too busy (and sometimes too preoccupied) to talk to everyone who talks to me.

And I'm tired of being talked to like my attention is a commodity someone independently decides they qualify for.

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