The Reader’s (and Writer’s) Bill of Rights
On our roles and responsibilities in this strange, digital relationship
You and I are in a curious kind of relationship right now. As with every relationship, we are playing roles in each other’s lives. Right now, I am playing the role of the writer, and you are playing the role of the reader. There are times when you will write and I will read, times when I may even read what you write and our roles will be reversed. Whether it’s you and I, or two other strangers, the reader-writer roles remain the same.
With those roles come a certain set of rights and responsibilities. When I say rights, I really mean abilities. When I say responsibilities, I mean response-abilities, so it’s just abilities again.
Any time we write, we have certain powers. Any time we read, we have certain powers. The only rules that really matter are what we can do, and what we can’t do, in those roles.
As a writer, my ability is to choose my words. I can choose what I write about and how I write about it. Whatever words I put out into the world have the power to impact the feelings and actions of others. That is the power that I, or any writer, is responsibility for.
As a reader, your ability is to choose what you read and how you feel about it. You can choose not to read this. You can choose not to read anything on the Internet. Whatever words are out there, you have the power to choose if will consume them and what you think about them once you do. That is the power that you, or any reader, is responsibility for.
As a writer, I can’t know what you want to read. I can’t know what you’ll find value in, what will help you, or what will hurt you. I can make educated guesses. I can educate my guesses as much as possible. I can choose my words with thoughtfulness and care, and respect the power words can have, but I can’t determine exactly what that power will do to you.
My power ends where yours begins.
Sometimes, I get frustrated with the limits of my power. If something I wrote got interpreted in a way I didn’t mean it to, or if a reader called out a perspective that was missing or poorly explained, made assumptions about me, felt hurt by what I wrote, I feel…