Tech

How To Deal With A Gchat Pest

And how to be gentle with annoying family members on Facebook. Also: Twitter etiquette during a tragedy.

I’ve got a friend who pretty frequently texts me or Gchats me with things that are clearly short vents, in a way I don’t really need to respond to. How do I deal with them when this gets to be annoying?

Texting and Gchat are communications built on symbiosis: the two of you have the potential to achieve your own long, special, cooperative relationship in these ecological systems, but you have to work to figure out how to get there. For some species, this looks more egalitarian: say, a dog and a cat that like to talk to each other everyday when they get tired of sitting and doing nothing at their desks, which happens at the same time every afternoon. But for some, it’s more like mammals and egrets. Supposedly your egret is helping you (by doing whatever the internet equivalent of eating parasites off your back is), but mostly it just seems like he wants a ride. He hardly weighs anything, but you do notice.

This will only work for you if it … works for you. If you think about it and come to the conclusion that this person is mostly using you as an anthropomorphized journal, and he isn’t really interesting or much of a listener himself, than you can block him from Gchat and tell him you stopped going on. Or you stop responding to his texts. But maybe you don’t mind the distractions so much, most of the time. Maybe you send your own pointless chats his way too, when you’re being honest with yourself. If that’s the case, it isn’t so big a burden to just throw a “haha” or “totally” that person’s way now and again. Just for natural harmony purposes.

My friend thought it would be funny to add my aunt to my Facebook friends but it was the worst thing he could do for me. All she does is tag my sisters and I on dumb pictures and videos that I don’t even find funny. I feel like deleting her off of Facebook but I know how hurt she would be. What would you do?

Okay, well first of all you need to explain to your friend what is a joke and what is not a joke, because that is some April Fools Day-type bullshit. “Funny” is not simply doing something that irritates another person, just because that person’s irritation makes you feel temporarily in control of that his mood and you find that power charming. Ugh, April Fools Day was nearly three weeks ago and still I am angry that we allowed it to happen AGAIN.

You have two choices here. No, that’s not true, because one of them (to untag yourself from your aunt’s posts until she gets the hint, if ever) is a passive-aggressive cop-out, and I don’t allow passive-aggressive cop-outs in this town. You could do it, but you’d have to leave. And if you walk out that door you are NEVER coming back, you hear?! Haha, I don’t know, I just got lost for fifteen minutes imagining myself in an old-timey sheriff’s outfit.

So the only thing you can do, really, is this: kindly tell your aunt that she doesn’t have to tag you in posts/videos for you to see them, because they’ll show up in your news feed. (I SUSPECT there’s a chance this might be why she’s doing it — it’s probably more of a Facebook misunderstanding than an attempt to take over your wall.) This is just a polite way of saying, “stop,” but it’s also true. When she stops tagging you, to make this worth her while, you’re going to have to visit her wall and “like” her posts occasionally, even when you do not like them. You have my permission to blame your friend for this everyday.

During the Boston Marathon bombing, there were a lot of people slamming people who were tweeting about anything besides the news. Can you tweet about anything else during a national tragedy? Should you?

I just don’t know.

When something terrible happens, people start tweeting about it. Soon other people start tweeting that they don’t like the way the news is being tweeted. Still other people tweet about something else — an unrelated joke, maybe — altogether (either because they feel like it might help to make anyone laugh, or because they don’t know what happened, or who knows why else) and some people don’t like that, so they tweet about that too. And the thing about those critiques (however true; however understandable, because we are all just mad) is that they convolute the news, just a little. Those tweets are about what happened, sort of, but they’re one degree away now. They’re tweets about tweets about news. And I think, in almost every case, that’s worse than tweeting about something else altogether. So often it is pretending to tweet about the news while really tweeting about you.

Unrelated jokes and thoughts and bits of news in my timeline, when mixed in among a great deal more focused on the breaking news at hand, don’t bother me. But I get why they can be jarring. Sometimes they are unfortunately, poorly timed. Mostly, though, this is innocuous. Who on this planet tweets a link about Beyoncé during something awful like yesterday and thinks, “I truly believe this is more pressing than news about the Boston bombings”? For cynicism’s sake, let’s say *almost* nobody. Maybe that tweet was scheduled, maybe that feed knows its own followers and its followers like to have their Beyoncé news as soon as possible, and maybe that person managed, somehow, to tweet something about B while watching the Boston news on TV over her laptop at the same time. And anyway, if that tweet weren’t there, would things be any better? Twitter hasn’t been shamed into your idea of good behavior yet, and it doesn’t look likely from here on out, either. Let’s not be so hard on each other.

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology. Would you like said advice? Email your questions to Katie.

Illustration by Cara Vandermey.

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