How the Internet Makes Us Mean

I often joke that the Industrial Revolution is the worst thing to ever happen to this country.  It’s trite, I know, and clearly not true when you consider the array of disasters and trauma we’ve faced.  But I have a love-hate relationship with technology and I do worry that it has caused us to reverse some important components of evolution.  What, for example, would happen to us as a people were the entire nation suddenly left without power and fuel?  We don’t know how to survive without power.  Most of can’t grow our own food or get from point A to point B without the use of technology.  Let’s face it, many of us are lost when our internet goes out for the day.

As I like to think positively and believe that such a crisis will never happen (please don’t burst my bubble on this one — it sustains me), I am mostly concerned about how technology — specifically, the internet –so often sucks the compassion right out of us.  There was a recent conflict in our little city-on-a-lake here that was covered by various news sources.  I was stunned to witness the level of vitriol spewed forth in the comment sections of the articles.  At first, people responded to the article itself.  Within 3-5 comments, though, people started to attack other commenters.  By the end of the section, it was difficult to remember the content of the original article.

This is all too common on the internet.

Now, I am a tremendous supporter of freedom of speech.  My concerns do not relate to people’s freedom to state their opinions.  I am worried about the way they say it.  When the forum is as anonymous as most anything on the internet, there are no direct, apparent consequences of this hatred.  On the contrary, when an argument occurs in person, we are usually careful not to alienate people we love or offend people we want in our lives.  These protective barriers do not exist within the confines of the internet and so we feel free to attack, often time viciously, usually without reason.***

Such attacks are most likely forgotten by the attacker, but the subject of the attack is often times left picking up the pieces of their newly, sometimes repeatedly, shattered spirit.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could move towards communicating our responses with integrity and kindness?   How about this?  If we are angry about something we read, we wait to respond for at least an hour.  Then, maybe we will have discovered that the real trigger is that we haven’t had our morning coffee yet or we are annoyed with someone.  If we are still pretty angry about what we read, we might try and state our opinion without judgement.  Now, that almost sounds as trite a suggestion as my aforementioned assertion about the Industrial Revolution.  But it seems like we need such a simple reminder.

Let’s take a theoretical look —
One could write,
“This is the stupidest thing I have ever read.  WTF?  Do your research!”

Or, just as easily, one could write,
“I am confused about your assertion here.  Would you mind sharing one or two of the resources that led you to this conclusion?”

See how that works?

The former makes a person who just wants to state their opinion or be included in a discussion about something important to them feel like they’ve been slammed into their locker and given an atomic wedgie, while the latter engages the author in a discussion.

Now, I have not received any heinous comments on this blog (though a link apparently incited quite a riot on another site regarding the very VERY controversial topic of knitting), and I welcome discourse, but I am disturbed by how often I read unadulterated hatred in website comments, on Facebook (where there is at least some accountability), and in forums.  It is the reason we don’t look at the comments section when we read a news article together as a family.  Besides my desire that the kids form their own opinions, I just don’t want them viewing such nefariousness as normal or desirable.

I am pretty sure that’s not what Al Gore wanted when he invented the internet in the first place.

***There are even people who “troll” websites with the specific intention of stirring the pot.  In what arena would they be able to do this in real life?  But this is a question for another time.

a sample comment regarding our recent controversy


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