It’s not for you.

I know nobody’s supposed to be able to change their mind because of something someone said on the internet. We’re all dug in in our opinionated social media trenches, right?

But here’s one of the biggest (and most easily-encapsulated) things I’ve learned online.

Flashback: the Internet, 8 – 10 years ago.

I’m meeting people like Zoe (via Twitter) and Steve (via work). One of them, maybe they remember which, tweets a cartoon. It’s something like Penny Arcade (before things got nasty), or SMBC (before web cartoon strips were huge). Or maybe something else; I don’t know, because despite doing some proper googling, I can’t find it again.

Anyway, it’s three or four panels, and a character is hella irritated by something they think is wrong on the internet. Someone else tries to help them understand: “It’s not for you”.

Four words.

A lightbulb went on in my head, over four words. And they have kept coming back to me ever since.

Irritated by young people’s music?

It’s not for you.

Think that new app everyone’s talking about is a waste of space?

It’s not for you.

OMG will you shut up about having a conference code of conduct already?

It’s not for you. If it was, we wouldn’t need to be having this conversation again.

It’s like the thing about always having one awful neighbour, and if you don’t know who that is, it’s you. Only this time, it’s not you. You’re not the target audience. Shut up: you look like an idiot, and you sound irrelevant.

But this can’t always apply?

Of course not. Sometimes you can say “yeah, I know that new business idea sounds good, but it’s terrible, and here’s why.” But you have to do better than “because I don’t like it”.

“I don’t get it — explain it to me” is a good start.

Well, aren’t you enlightened.

I’m really not. For example, I can’t seem to get past my opinion that Guardians of the Galaxy could have been a terrific film, but instead is lazy, cynical even, quite dull in places, and vastly overrated — I honestly do not understand why so many people I know really, really liked it.

The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in between. The mantra allows for some degree of uncertainty about my certainty. Which seems useful in these days of highly-charged, highly polarised opinions.

Maybe it’s not for me.