I have recently had a rather unsettling spat with someone. It was over the internet with a man that I don’t know and am never likely to meet. Had we met face to face I would probably have decided that he wasn’t my type of person and moved on. As it is I have come across him on a forum in which I wish to participate and so will have to continue to run into him.

Like most people, I am not naturally confrontational. I would rather drink a glass of warm white wine than trouble the waiter to change it. I rarely row with anybody, even my family, preferring instead to steer around potential flashpoints than confront them head on.

But I have had two rows in two years which is probably more than in the whole of the ten years before. Both were conducted by electronic means and this makes me wonder. Is it that as I get older I am more prepared to say what I think rather than sweeping it under the carpet and chuntering in private? Or does the fact that the other party is not there in person make it easier to say what you think without fear of the consequences?

I’m not sure which is true- maybe a little bit of both – but, in this age of electronic communication, it is immediately obvious how easily petty arguments can brew up. Unless you know someone incredibly well and can actually hear the words they type as if they were coming out of their mouth, then it is worryingly easy to misinterpret their comments. An exclamation mark carefully placed to suggest that the comment is made in jest could  accidentally indicate sarcasm. It’s not surprising that we have developed a whole language of expressions crafted from punctuation marks in an attempt to ensure that our comments are not misunderstood.

And the speed with which such conversations take place sometimes mean that very little consideration has gone in what has been said. I can honestly say this does not apply to me as I generally think pretty carefully before putting pen to paper but it is easy to fire a response off in anger and much more difficult to retrieve it.

I think I probably do still give confrontation a wide birth but I’d like to think that had the recent conversation happened in the real rather than the virtual world I would have dealt with it in the same way. But we’ll never know will we?