Breaking all the rules

The Internet is a lawless place. Or overrun with strict social codes. Which is it?

Mar 2, 2020, 6:19 pm*

Internet Culture

Janet Kornblum 

Janet Kornblum

I keep telling my parents, don’t sweat Facebook and the computer so much. Don’t worry. There are no rules. Tech folks have known this since the dawn of technology. They just get it done. It’s the beauty of the Internet: there are no rules. None. Zip. Nada.

Except for when there are.

Which you only find out when you violate said Cardinal Rule of the Internet, whatever it is. Because Those in the Know definitely know what it is. The rule you violated.

You’re going about your normal, banal, daily Internet rounds. Doing what you do. And then suddenly, you lose friends. They shun you, not wanting to be seen next to you, virtually or otherwise. Your Facebook page falls silent; your tweets are remarkably unfavorited; no one tags you. You’re left sitting in the corner of the room, wearing a dunce hat, contemplating your stupidity while the rest of the Internet laughs at you in another room.

How could you be such an idiot as to like so many company pages on your Facebook page? How dare you tweet so many times that you’re mayor of some restaurant no one else even knows? How on earth do you think it’s OK to use a signature on your phone explaining your inadvertent typos?

Whatever happened to the wild freedom of the Net? The Internet is supposed to be this chaotic utopia where just about anything legal (or close to it) goes. It’s our own little populist Netopia where we make up the rules as we go, and everyone hangs their own way.


The funny thing is, it wasn’t even the corporate takeover of the Web that lead us here—to a labyrinth of Internet dos and don’ts, an invisible city of popularity-based social codes. We didn’t even need big business to create that for us. We did it ourselves. We’ve all become bossy 8-year-olds, scolding, no, you boob, that’s not the way you play on the jungle gym; and of course you don’t get all the money in the bank when you land on free parking.

There are an infinite number of articles letting us (i.e. not you) know the Rules. I’ve probably written some, myself. There are books. There are lecturers. There are experts. Oh, don’t get me started on the experts.

Or rather, please do. Because who deemed you the latest social media guru and actual guru? Who deemed any guru an actual guru? Don’t actual gurus have to go to actual guru school to become Gurus?

Yes, I get the irony. I’m pointing out the people who do not have actual certifications to instruct people about the Internet that should not have rules.

But getting back to that. Rules are inane.

On the other hand, unless they’re mine. Which are, for example:

You can email any time of night, but for God’s sake, figure out that texts can only be seen when someone is expected to be awake, because it’s true that most people do not turn off their cellphones. Ever.

Here’s another. I’m so happy that you own an iPad. Aren’t you too cool? Now, go buy matching headphones because really, who watches movies on speaker in a crowded waiting room? So rude.

That’s the thing about rules—we all have them. They just don’t all play nice together.

But isn’t it better that way? Isn’t it nice that there is no governing body telling us just when we can text and when we can email and who and how we can tweet?

We are free to do whatever dumbass thing we want to do, thank goodness. Whether you want to wear the dunce cap is up to you. Do it with a grin, my friend.

Want to tell your friends every time you score a double espresso from the cafe up the street, letting them know just how extravagant and hooked you are? Fine. Want to alert your friends to your Botox shots as you get them? Hey, that’s your business. Want to alert everyone to your once-monthly Tumblr updates? That’s just fine and dandy.

All is fair on the Internet.

Except your stupid text at 3 a.m.

Watch Janet Kornblum breaking and making rules on Twitter at jkornblum or Facebook.

Image from Bobbie Harvey Photographic Archives/Flickr

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*First Published: Jun 5, 2013, 1:57 pm