Your Grindr notification goes off and you rub your pincers with glee while thinking a one-word thought: "Score!" But then you see that it's from a guy who looks like the hindquarters of bad luck. Do you say, "Thanks, but no thanks"? Surely you would say that at a bar if a guy you didn't like hit on you.
It would be wrong to say that the manners you use to lubricate your way out of real-world dilemmas should be used online. It's not that simple. The guy in the bar isn't an anonymous stranger. By the fact that he made himself known to you ("Hi, I'm Steve, and I think your jeans would look great wadded up on the floor by my bed"), he may be strange, but he's no stranger. You just met. But online it's different, and that's why what's considered rude behavior offline (not saying hello back to Steve, or ignoring the hand he offered in friendship) is entirely acceptable online.
Here's a great example that Lo Jacobs describes in his gay dating blog post: A guy hit him up on Grindr with "Very Cute." Now, Lo could have simply said "thanks" and moved on, but as he said, "I was weary of starting a conversation thread with someone I had no interest in dating, getting to know, or even chatting with. Instead, I trashed the message and thought nothing of it."
But it didn't end there. He got another message from the guy: "You must be shy cause I know it's not cause I'm UNATTRACTIVE." Irritated, Lo responded, "No shyness on my part." And here's how it devolved:
Hindquarters: "Then u must learn how to say 'Thank You' when someone pays you a compliment."
Lo: "And you need to learn how to accept a polite rejection."
Hindquarters: "First of all I was NOT seeking anything from your a** that warrants rejection!!!! I simply paid your DUMB a** a COMPLIMENT!! There is a DIFFERENCE!! LEARN IT!! Carry On!!"
Was Lo wrong? Yes on both counts. He shouldn't have answered Hindquarters at all, not even to say thank you. Online, any response simply prolongs the agony of the Hindquarters in all of us. Nobody pays you a compliment online without an agenda. To respond to somebody you're not interested in is to signal that you are. If Lo had written a simple "thank you," Hindquarters would have thought, "Houston, we have contact!" and proceeded to engage Lo further, an engagement Lo didn't want.
So in a weird way, conventional kindness -- like responding to somebody's communication -- is actually unkind and unproductive, unkind to Hindquarters because it fills him with false hope, and unproductive for you because it will start a text thread that you don't have the time or the inclination for.
Civility isn't dead. It's just reserved for actual people. If somebody hits on you at a bar, you don't have to worry about whether that guy is misrepresenting his physical self. You can hear the tone in his voice and see the shape of his body. He's real whether you like him or not. And because he's real, you owe him a little dignity and respect. But on Grindr you have no idea if the guy who just texted you is real. It could be a 14-year-old boy or a bored housewife looking for grins. Until you meet somebody for real, everyone online is an apparition. You don't owe these half-lives anything but the kindness of silence.