I feel as if the internet is the wild, wild west of the modern era. Anything goes! Speak your mind! Offend people! Let off steam! Stake your claim! Get into duels! Express yourself! Dig for gold! Free-range thoughts!
I can’t be the only one who is getting a little weary of this attitude? Don’t get me wrong, the internet and the ‘free-range’ thoughts that are expressed and consumed by it seem great – the immense commerce of ideas and information, how is that not exciting?! The information junkie inside me is revelatory in the amount of data that is available to consume. So-called free-thought. Or is it?
Recently I have been thinking about the online trend to increasingly ‘curate’ or personalize our internet experience. Don’t like that ad? Get one that is more to your liking! Offended by your crazy aunt bitch about Obama on Facebook? You can block her posts! Everything is moving towards cushioning us into our own comfortable bubbles of dogma. So much so that we are forgetting what it is like to have frank, honest and civil disagreements with other people who hold differing beliefs. I’m not sure if the online population has caught on to this yet, but I’m pretty sure it is statistically impossible to convert 100% of all people to one way of looking at the world.
We will always meet with a differing viewpoint. Always. I feel like sometimes there are people online who are actually offended when other people do not view things the way they do. Is this for real?
So how does someone get to the point where they believe their way is the only way? That a civil discourse on a topic that may be contentious turns into vehement hate-spew in the comments of an article? I think the internet is increasingly de-humanizing the exchange of ideas, so when you interact with others online you are missing a crucial piece of the context: the actual human presence. Sure, you see their name and photo maybe, and perhaps where they live, but does your brain actually humanize the avatar of this so-called real person?
In his book Mindwise, Nicholas Epley notes a study which highlights a huge disconnect in the way people think they will act in a certain situation, and what they actually do when faced with the real face-to-face interaction. There is a certifiable contextual element when you have real people in front of you, and your subconscious has spent millennia learning how to interpret body language, facial expressions and mood into a very human interaction. And now we are having to re-train our subconscious in translating the subtext of internet slang and emojis in order to complete our social transaction. I’m pretty sure that without the real person in front of us, our consciousness is not able to properly interpret and react the way it needs to, leaving us with a more or less empty encounter, devoid of real energy and exchange. An interaction that is mostly about ourselves and our personal agenda. Humanity removed.
I believe firmly that we have a social consciousness that is crucial to our ideological mindset and evolution, and without actual interpersonal interaction it is rendered useless. Unless we are somehow able to humanize these interactions? Is the internet stunting us in this regard? I certainly hope not, but this thought has moved me to build more in-person social activities in my life. The virtual version of such is of no comparison, and is indeed missing so much context.