Sunday, 21 July 2013

Fatal Crosspost: Coming soon to a conversation near you

The first of two articles this month for AVENUE magazine.

Asimov once wrote of his pride in coining the word ‘robotics’, a term now commonly used to describe – and this can surely come as no surprise – anything pertaining to the technology or use of robots. It might seem odd that an author of literally hundreds of books should have ranked so highly the invention of a single word – one which, let’s face it, would probably have made its way into our language in any case – in his audit of personal achievement; I’m totally with him on this, however. After nearly seven years of life in the metaverse and approximately half a million words committed in some shape or form to the subject, the marriage of just two of them delights me as one of my favourite creations: I invented the term ‘fatal crosspost’.

‘Fatal crosspost’ might not be quite so universally obvious a term as ‘robotics’, however I’m relatively certain that most Second Life® residents will understand its meaning without too much thought. It is, of course, the accidental typing of a comment into person X’s instant message box instead of person Y’s. Not just any comment. Let’s be really clear here: simply typing any old innocuous thing into the wrong IM box by mistake is not what I’m talking about at all. That, of course, would be just a benign crosspost, the sort of thing we follow-up with “Wrong window; my apologies” and to which the crosspostee typically responds with a smiley face and a polite ‘lol’. No. For a fatal crosspost to occur, the thing accidentally typed has to be monumentally one of the worst possible things you could say to that person in that moment. For example, a comment about person X meant for person Y. An uncomplimentary comment. As a general rule, it’s unusual for me to make uncomplimentary comments about other people; one might think, therefore, that the law of averages alone would result in the number of benign crossposts made vastly outnumbering the number of fatal ones. This is not the case. In fact, I’ve found the benign crosspost to be a much less common occurrence than probability would predict based on the mental challenge posed by juggling two, three, even four IM conversations at once. On the other hand, those moments of immense peril involving immature conversations about someone nearby seem to attract the accidental crosspost like gravity attracts matter.

This is not to say that the benign crosspost can do no harm. Accidentally crossposting a comment on, say, the state of the economy into the IM box of someone you’ve intimated has your complete attention would be embarrassing for the crossposter and potentially humiliating for the crosspostee. Such a crosspost could indeed turn out in the long-term to be fatal. But the true fatal crosspost requires no time for its consequences to become apparent; its impact is as subtle as the kiss of a flying brick smashing into your face. And the torchlight embarrassment felt previously at an awkward crosspost will become in the sun-like glare of the sheer shame of an FC as minor as accidentally letting out in conversation one of those high-pitched sneezes you’ve always tried to repress in public. The fatal crosspost is the noisy fart you let out during your annual appraisal with the line manager you’ve always had a secret crush on by comparison.

I’m not quite sure why the creation of this phrase gives me so much pleasure.  One theory I have is that the sheer mortification experienced at my own incidences of fatal crosspost is so intense I’ve disproportionately attached immense pride to the making of the phrase in order to convince myself that all the pain I’ve experienced and caused was in some way worth it in the end. The mollified corpses left in my fumbling wake are the unfortunate collateral damage of genius, if you like: I might have seriously upset perfectly decent people with my social ineptitude, but without those subsequent moments of utter self-abhorrence I might never have achieved the greatness of inventing this amazing phrase. Incidentally, I’m not not mentioning here examples of my own personal FCs here out of consideration for the privacy of the crosspostees insulted by them, nor out of any attempt to reduce damage to whatever impression you might currently hold of me: the reason I’m not mentioning them is I have very little actual recollection of their content and circumstances. I believe that the magnitude of my horror on these occasions activated some sort of emergency self-preservation system which declared martial law on my brain and promptly ordered the neurons retaining the memory of the event to commit suicide. All I’m left with today is the recollection of suddenly realising the full magnitude of what my third finger and the Enter key had just done to me and the extreme desire in that moment for my life to end immediately.

There is, of course, no recovery from a fatal crosspost. In the instant of their occurrence, one is usually completely aware that, following the optional grovelling apology, the crosspostee will never be spoken to again. Their name must be added reluctantly to the growing list of people we’re resigned to acknowledge would not only be likely to run us down if they happened to spot us walking alone on a country lane, but would actually be justified in doing so. Any attempt to recover even the smallest fraction of the previously held relationship will only result in the degradation and further humiliation of both poster and postee: any hugs, praise and compliments, any statements of self-flagellation, any intellectual attempts to undermine, counter-argue or in any other way rescind the offending comment made – humorous or otherwise – will ring more hollow and more false than a politician’s pre-election promise; never, under any circumstances, should this be attempted. Accept the new reality and move on.

I’m joking, of course. Recovery is indeed possible. You should be warned, however, that the possible grain of truth in your flippant comment, made for the sake of a moment’s worth of positive affirmation from the person you thought you were talking to, is likely to become the catalyst for a new level of relationship that involves open articulation of the neuroses you might previously have wished person X had some awareness of, but which you’ll conclude were probably better left unexamined after all. By means of compensation, you’ll then feel the need to share some of your own insecurities in return; before you know it, you’ll be listing each other in your profiles as SL siblings, bound together by the pain of existence in an unfair universe and threatening the ten courts of hell on anyone who “messes” with the other. In the long term, then, it might ultimately be far less pain and hassle to just let the crosspostee get on with the business of thinking you a complete and utter turd from this point on in both your lives.

Returning to the issue of ‘fatal crosspost’ the phrase as opposed to fatal crosspost the experience, the invention of any new piece of terminology is only really meaningful if other people go on to use it. The difficulty with this particular phrase is that it contains within it – through use of the word ‘fatal’ – a strong acknowledgement of the magnitude of the deed’s consequences that only a person who’s committed it can really fully appreciate. To anyone who has not thus far committed this crime (enjoy your smug innocence whilst it lasts), ‘fatal’ must seem a bit disproportionate, a bit of an over-exaggeration, a bit – dare I say it – ‘drama’. They might consider the phrase ‘accidental crosspost’ to be entirely sufficient a term, not in need of any embellishment or sub-categorisation. A person who chooses to use ‘fatal crosspost’, then, is sort of admitting through so doing their own guilt. It’s a bit like announcing to all who are present that you’re the sort of person who routinely talks about others behind their back.

The good news is that, by the same logic, this will only be apparent to other offenders, who will likely nod their heads solemnly in RL and welcome you into the brethren of convicted FC felons.  Just as some of you reading this will be wondering what on earth all the fuss is about (whilst others will be smiling at the resonance and simultaneously shuddering at the brief re-emergence of heavily repressed memories), the innocent bystanders will scratch their heads in puzzlement, shrug the phrase off and take their next step on the journey towards their own fatal crosspost appointment – because we’re all of us human and we all occasionally gossip.  Then, and only then will the true meaning of the phrase reveal itself to them.

If you belong to the group of people who’ve committed fatal crosspost, can I ask you to do this veteran SL resident a favour and start using it in your conversation? The thing to remember is we’re not really bad people for having done this, particularly if the words we use to describe it convey that we know that it was wrong and we do indeed feel shame.
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