Thursday, March 27, 2014

The unsent letter

There are distinct advantages in the “unsent letter” technique, chiefly, keeping one from saying regrettable things, online especially. I’ve used it a lot lately.

Earlier this week, Kelly Sedinger (aka Jaquandor) shared an article on his blog, Byzantium’s Shores. The article he linked to, “The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter” by Maria Konnikova, talks about both the brake and catharsis provided by writing an unsent letter (or unposted online comment). Kelly summed up the article well when he wrote:
“…an interesting hypothesis as to why the Internet is so often a cesspool of spittle-flecked rage. It's not just that it's easy to post angry missives online, it's that the very ease of doing so negates the intended catharsis of writing them in the first place.”
Of course, I’ve talked about this sort of restraint here on this blog. Last year, I talked about out-of-control mockery, and a month earlier, I wrote:
“It’s not that I don’t have things I want to say, it’s that I have things I don’t want to publish. Very different things.”
That hasn’t changed since—actually, it has: The number of posts I start and then abandon—even after having spent hours on them—has continued to rise. I often decide that wherever the angry or negative post has ended up is not a place I want to be, and not a thing I want on this blog.

Three years ago, I talked about my “Two-day Rule” for blogging:
“If I see something I want to comment on, especially something that pisses me off or otherwise riles me up, I try to wait until the second day (or longer) before I write a post.”
This is basically the “unsent letter” trick by another name, but whatever it’s called, it works. It turns out, there’s a lot of stuff that interests me besides the stuff that make me angry. It’s much easier to write about pop culture, history, whatever, if my time isn’t spent firing off angry rants.

On the other hand, the fact that sometimes I spend hours on an angry post that never gets out of my drafts folder means that I often have little energy for writing some other post for that day. I think that’s an acceptable compromise. I’m doing my part to make the Internet a tiny bit more civil, but I still get to vent about whatever’s made me angry—even though no one but me will ever see it.

I wish more people would at least try to restrain themselves before dashing off an angry retort.

Tip o’ the Hat to Roger Green who emailed me the link to the Byzantium’s Shores post; these days I don’t have time to read as many blogs as I’d like and I often miss out on posts like that.

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