Terence Blacker: I'm nicer online than in real life

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The Independent Online

It is one of those moments when news from the virtual world has kicked real life off the front pages. Google has taken upon itself the right to pass on details of everyone's online life; meanwhile, the mini-chat site Twitter is six years old, and i's Twitter 100, a chart of the most influential tweeters, has been published.

Once these developments in cyberspace would not have interested me in the slightest. When Stephen Fry photographed himself in a lift and broadcast it to his "followers" – a seminal moment in Twitter's history – I was equally bewildered by the self-stalking celebrity invading his own privacy and by those who were interested in it.

Later, I was myself sucked into cyberspace and, although not yet reduced to taking pictures of myself and sending them to strangers, I have to confess that it has changed my life. I mini-chat, I blog, I interact on a daily basis with people I have never met. It's great. Internet social networks are useful for the freelance, allowing mild acts of self-promotion. Thanks to the little gang of witty, intelligent people whose messages I read, I discover articles, news stories and clips which I would otherwise have missed. On the other hand, I resist the urge to overshare with the other, only slightly larger gang which listens to me.

This alternative, virtual version of myself has changed me. I am nicer behind the screen than I am in real life – more tolerant, less gabby, wittier, kinder. If someone is rude to me, I try to respond in a dignified tone, or simply rise above it. These things rarely happen in the real, physical world.

Like many millions of people, I am beginning to discover that social life conducted through a computer with two tapping fingers is more controllable than the hit-or-miss business of a human contact.

Not only can I avoid bores, but I am less boring myself. As a result, I go out less than I used to, any need for company being satisfied by a few minutes of cheerful yet economical chat online.

There are disadvantages in this new arrangement. Those who use Twitter or text become more clipped in all their communications, forgetting that in the outside world messages can exceed 140 characters.

There is always the worry that someone who knows me online will be disappointed by my more garrulous, less interesting non-digital self. It is a small price to pay for the joy of having my own little forum beyond the screen where I can be myself (even if I am not).