You Shouldn’t Joke About That

I have to be very careful with how I word this article, or else people will think that I’m the most heartless bastard to ever exist.  Regardless of its execution, I’m writing this entry for my personal blog, and thus I should be allowed the freedom and flexibility to say whatever comes to mind first. Even supposing that you might not agree with me.

In my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher told the class that (and I paraphrase), “You need to be careful with your words, because you just never know when you might upset someone.” I took his advice into deep consideration because there are extremely sensitive people out there who, even at the thought of lightly insensitive joke, will plunge into an epileptic rage. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that all jokes, offensive or lighthearted, span a metaphorical minefield: one false step and you’ll “set off” somebody else’s feelings. So where am I supposed to step in the minefield that is humor? What jokes am I allowed to make, and what jokes should I simply keep to myself for fear of striking a nerve?

There is an elevated level of ambiguity in acceptable versus unacceptable humor. What one person might find funny, another might find distasteful, so it’s important to always think carefully before you make that final, fateful punch line. But what if acceptable versus unacceptable humor, by its very subjective nature, is unknown?

I condemn such phrases as, “You shouldn’t joke about that” and “That’s not very funny” because the line separating topics that can be joked about and topics that cannot be joked about is obscured. We’re all unique individuals who have had different past experiences from which our senses of humor have emerged. Therefore, when I make a joke that fails to comply with your standards for acceptable humor, it’s not really necessary for you to express to me that you’re offended because I couldn’t have known that you would find it offensive in the first place. In fact, I’m offended that you’re offended!

Okay, okay. I need to moderate my tone now because I promised myself that I wouldn’t let this article devolve into an angry rant. But here me out for just a few more paragraphs.

George Carlin, my all-time favorite stand-up comedian, argued that you can make a joke about pretty much anything as long as the exaggeration that constitutes the joke is so out of line and so “out there” that is has no basis in reality. In other words, the setup of the joke should be mundane enough to where the punch line completely throws it off balance. That is something I consider to be the ingredient of a great joke—offensive or not.

Of course, there are limits that should not be pushed. For example, when an unfathomable tragedy such as a terrorist attack or school shooting occurs, we should probably put off making jokes about it for a while to give people the time and space to grieve. Making comedic references to a specific incident with the intent to downplay the enormous misfortune that it’s caused does come across as rather brash and ill-conceived. As far as sensitive topics are concerned, I don’t believe that they are entirely off-limits, and neither did Mr. Carlin.

I for one employ offensive humor as a way to emotionally distance myself from how chaotic this world can be. Many times, I feel like pointing fingers and laughing at something awful makes it less threatening.

But that’s just me. You might believe that some topics should never, under any circumstances, be joked about, and that’s okay. If we’re having a conversation and you happen to find that something I said upset or unsettled you, do not hesitate to call me out on it so that I can readjust my language accordingly. But to say that I’m not “allowed” to joke about [insert topic here] is an obstruction of my own free will.

Are Read Receipts Complicating Relationships?

“I love you.”

*seen 7:47 P.M.*

Communication has always been a tricky puzzle, and the read receipt hasn’t made it any easier to solve.

A read receipt is a special indicator in IM conversations of both the time and date that the receiver opened the sender’s message, such as “seen 7:47 P.M.” or “read at 5:45 P.M.” Now, people can tell exactly when they’re being acknowledged or ignored. To my understanding, you can find read receipts in Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and iMessage, although these and other applications may give you the option to disable them.

Read receipts almost always inconvenience at least one participating party because if you open the message, then you’re forced to respond to it immediately, and you become locked into a conversation that has no end in sight. Alternatively, if you wait to open the message, then the other person will think that you’re just ignoring them. And while you can opt to use the infamous, “Sorry, I didn’t have my phone on me” excuse, chances are it’s not going to work because honestly, who isn’t carrying their phone 24/7?

Call me “behind the times,” a bitter old man, or whatever, but I’m not a strong believer in text messaging being the primary conversational medium. If anything, it intrudes on the fluid and sloppy yet imperfectly beautiful nature of authentic human communication, and fosters an unhealthy dependence on our comfort zones. Its primary purpose should be to convey vital information, not spend hours exchanging meaningless, lazy, 3 word sentences that do little to progress relationships in the real world and ultimately reduce social competence.

I also don’t have the stamina or retention span (not ATTENTION span) to be effective at text messaging. Read receipts only expose just how ineffective that I can be at it. While texting, I might run into what are perceived breaks in the conversation with you, and thus I might forget to respond, fall asleep, or stop responding altogether. Yet how am I supposed to know what constitutes a break in the conversation when I am unable to evaluate your body language or tone of voice? If the read receipt shows that I’ve opened your latest message at “6:50 P.M.” and I haven’t responded to it ever since, then it might appear as though I’ve lost interest in talking to you, when in actuality I thought we both had nothing more to say. But it doesn’t always come across that way. For that reason, I’m starting to worry that the mere knowledge our most recent messages were opened is enough to further complicate our relationships by creating the false impression that, by virtue of one or two unacknowledged texts, we do not care about our friends and companions anymore.

Texting sure is nice and convenient, but it often creates stress when there should be none. Think, how many times have you agonized over that one unacknowledged message that was opened over three hours ago? How many times have you convinced yourself that your boyfriend or girlfriend has lost interest simply because they haven’t responded to you since last night?

It used to be that the best way to tell you were being ignored was when you called and left a voicemail for a friend, companion, or potential employer, and they never called you back. However, you had no way of knowing that the other person ever received your voicemail—you just had to take it at face value and assume they weren’t interested. Today, it’s more so that you know the other person isn’t interested (because the read receipt tells you exactly when your last message was opened), they just couldn’t make it any less painfully obvious.

The read receipt is another classic example of how technology, when abused, doesn’t enhance communication, but rather obscures it. I hope that someday, we can get into the habit of turning the phones off and opening up to each other the old fashion way.