The optimist in me wants to continue believing the Internet is a wonderful place, where people from different cultures, backgrounds, religions, and worldviews all over the world can come together in a happy global community of understanding and unconditional love, unrestricted by political or geographic boundaries.
The cynic in me knows this will never be the case, because humans online are the same as humans anywhere else – sometimes kind, but often petty and mean, and always limited by our own knowledge and experiences, our views tinted by realized and unrealized biases. The Internet has the potential to reduce us to a Hobbesian state of nature, “nasty, brutish and short.”
So which is it? In reality, it’s not an either/or but a both/and: We can participate in the global community, or we can participate in the global catfight. Both are happening simultaneously, and sometimes those who are trying to participate in the community become casualties of the catfight.
I’ve heard the above quote before, but I was happy to find it on my Twitter feed today, for Writing 101’s challenge to find inspiration on social media. Earlier today I was sad to read a farewell post from a member of my online community, about how she is leaving us, largely because the meanness of people online is adversely affecting her offline life.
I know she’s not the only one who’s had to unplug because the corrosiveness of interactions becoming overwhelming. The Internet is all kinds of paradoxes. Connected but disconnected. Together but fragmented. Social but isolated. Tolerant of all views except those that don’t follow the same creed of absolute tolerance.
All of us have struggles and fears and dark places inside. None of us are perfect or all-knowing or above reproach. All of us might slip up and say something dumb, or offensive, or insensitive sometimes. None of us deserve the kind of vitriol often unleashed by Internet vigilanteism and misguided social justice warriors. We are all a little bit broken inside. So… let’s just be kind, even just a little bit, okay?
What do you think of the Internet and social media? Is it a “new way to be human” or are we going back to a “nasty, brutish and short” state of nature? A little of both?