“Get a life!”… It’s one of the most familiar put-downs on the World Wide Web, appearing on forums and the social networking sites with striking regularity. But there’s almost always an irony in the phrase, because in order to recognise that some unknown character in a far-flung corner of the Net needs to get a life, you kind of have to be paying fairly close attention to some pretty trivial matters yourself…
WHAT IS “A LIFE”?
So what do people really mean when they say: “Get a life!”? What do they consider “a life” to be? In truth, our lives are a balance of choice versus necessity, and given that pretty much whatever we do outside of necessity is our personal choice, the lives we lead in our spare time are the lives we’re happy leading. There’s no scientific law to say that going to a trendy night spot is any more valid a use of time than spending hours at home and on Twitter.
WHAT “GET A LIFE” IS REALLY ALL ABOUT
So the phrase “Get a life!” has very little to do with people living up to a social ideal – particularly when the individual using the phrase is evidently living out a similar lifestyle to the person they’re accusing of not having “a life”. What it really is, is a manipulative piece of language, used to embarrass people into silence. “Get a life!” is a reaction to discomfort. The factor common to all utterances of “Get a life!” is not a specific social circumstance, but the fact that one Internet user is saying things another Internet user doesn’t like.
For example, spend twenty hours a week on forums giving free, trivial help to Internet users who are too idle to use Google, and you can be sure that absolutely none of them will be suggesting you need to “get a life”. You’re doing them favours, so even though they probably visualise your life as quite empty and devoid, they’ll never actually tell you so.
Conversely, spend just ten minutes a week questioning someone’s behaviour on the Internet, and you’ll probably be told to “Get a life!” in an instant. Having a life, whatever that may mean, doesn’t come into it. The phrase “Get a life!” is expressly targeted to humiliate and silence.
In fact, for some of the more influential Web users it’s even become a strong facet of publicity-management. Phrases such as “Get a life” now frequently serve as set piece responses to those who complain about rude conduct, poor value and other bad experiences in the lower echelons of the commercial world. The phrase may of course be issued to deserving trolls, but equally, it may be issued to a disgruntled customer trying to alert the public to commercial malpractice or even fraud. It can be employed as a way of silencing valid criticism, and it frequently is.
THE POWER OF THE PHRASE
“Get a life!” is very derogatory, and very powerful. No one wants to be considered to be living some kind of tragic, empty existence, so the phrase does shut people up. It immediately alerts them to the fact that they may be spending too much time on inconsequential matters, and they’ll typically find that notion embarrassing. Embarrassing enough to hold back on any further comments.
The evidence suggests that not only does this type of put-down often stop ongoing dissent in its tracks – it can also stop new dissenters from rearing their heads too. Phrases like “Get a life!” are obviously not going to be used by major, reputable businesses, but they’re frequently used by scammers and the more disingenuous facets of the commercial world. So whilst “Get a life!” can be a weapon for good in the fight against keyboard warriors, it can also be a weapon for evil in the hands of those who want to behave badly and avoid being called to account.