Friday, January 22, 2010

Internet Not Just for Nameless Attacks -- Apologies Also Abound

Whether deserved or not, the Internet receives a significant amount of criticism because of the ubiquity of snarky, rude, and vitriolic miscreants who delight in anonymously antagonizing people. The prevalence of such activity has given rise to the Net Commandments, and has even inspired a comprehensive categorization of message board flamers.

Lost amid all that bloggery bravado and insulting Internet behavior, though, has been the proliferation of a different type of online interaction: the overdue apology. According to the Wall Street Journal, an increasing amount of people are using the Internet to rectify previous wrongs, and are sometimes apologizing for missteps that occurred decades ago. The Journal spoke with cousins, departed lovers, siblings, and classmates who all logged on, located their one-time objects of scorn, and lamented the occurrences that may have helped drive them apart.

Those past wrongs range from rude comments to a wedding invitation omission, from the tormenting of a younger sister to classroom bullying. In some interactions, the victim didn't even remember the transgression, but the apology still served to lessen the burden of the wrongdoer. In other cases, the recipient of the apology was moved to tears.

In one specific incident, Jane Angelich felt the need to rectify "the meanest thing" she ever did, so, after tracking down her cousin online, she apologized for telling him to "drop dead,"in 1961. (That is the "meanest thing?" Wow. Way to make us feel absolutely loathsome). She told the Journal that she sought solace after almost 50 years because "When something is nagging at you for 48-years, you need to clear it up."

Certain people will dismiss these cyber apologies as being less than heartfelt, but the mere presence of such activity should be celebrated. People often decry the Internet's supposed role in creating distance between people and inspiring a lack of humanity and compassion, but this trend demonstrates the opposite. Some recipients of the apologies may refuse to accept them, but just trying to make restitution can help the apologizing person cope with their own misdeeds. And, while the Journal praises reaching out to people, it still wisely recommends a personal approach once you've tracked down your former enemy: call them on the phone.

If you sometimes stare at the ceiling late at night, wondering if your cross words still haunt a former acquaintance or friend (and, really, who doesn't?), there are, of course, Web sites that can help ease the apology process. Have you apologized (or received an apology) over the Web? Let us know in comments

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