(BTW I’m doing this post in Five Minutes, unedited.)
You may have noticed things deteriorating on the roads for a while now. Someone cuts in on you, and it’s all you can do to not curse, or beep your horn, or gesticulate somehow. That bubble that contains us, the windows and the doors of our cars… somehow it seems to put us in invisible armour. I can shout or swear or be as aggressive as I like behind this window. You’re just a car in my way. You don’t see me here, do you? You can’t get to me here. I’m in my isolated bubble, and I can do or say as I like. If you stop and come after me, well I can drive away and never see you again… That’s how it feels.
The digital bubble is no different. Behind the slidy screen, we can post and like, friend or unfriend with the same sense of autonomy. I can say what I think online, and there’s no real comeback. It’s like gesticulating from behind the car window. If you don’t like it, I can drive on by. I don’t need to hear your side of the story. I can blank you, ignore you, blow you off. Who reads it anyway? Whose feelings am I hurting? When I don’t see your reaction, when I don’t wait for your answer… well, I don’t care about the reaction, really, do I?
It’s not just digital that has done that – it’s the increasingly individualistic society we’re in. We’ve disconnected from each other, we’ve disconnected our actions from the consequences, and somehow treat each other in a way that denies our mutual humanity.
But if I don’t care much about your reaction to how I interact online, then I will soon enough start to wonder if you care much about me either. It makes the whole online interaction rather meaningless…
… so what’s the antidote? I can’t help but think it’s going to involve engagement. I’m going to remember that there’s a real person behind that handle – someone who can get hurt, someone with a heart. Rather than leave rhetoric or criticism, I can leave something that costs me something – comments that show patience, understanding, encouragement. It’s a totally different kind of trail, but it’s one that leaves people feeling more human, not less, by the time they’ve read what we had to say.
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