Sunday, January 9, 2011

Manners in the Digital Age

I'm ambivilent about the "social network" phenomenon.  On the one hand I can see it's value.  Blogging has been great for me, and frankly, I enjoy spouting off and sharing my thoughts and feelings.  I have a facebook account and am on Linkedin, and have found benefits to both.  I haven't "tweeted" and frankly don't get that one at all, (I think I have a lot to say but I'm not that verbose!).

However, there's a part of me that thinks this TMI (too much information) overload is a bad thing.  It would be wonderful if it brought out the best in us, but somehow, giving a platform to everyone may not be as good an idea as we thought.  I'm a big proponent of free speech, but I also think it's not a good idea to joke about bombs at the airport or yell "fire" in a crowded theater.  Unfortunately, it appears that there are many people who don't seem to understand the difference.

The recent shootings in Arizona are a prime example.  As soon as it happened there were rumors flying around, organizations and people being blamed, hypotheses being formed, and more threats being made, none of it well informed and all of it based on emotion.  This isn't a political blog so I don't want to get into that part of it, all I do want to say is that all of this jumping in with both feet with no information is a bad thing.  It's always better to stand back, wait for things to settle down and facts to be established before going off half cocked.  It's the responsible way to behave.

I've seen this same kind of thing happen on various chat rooms and amongst friends and family on facebook.  Someone posts something, someone else takes offense, and off we go!  It's a war of words that no one will ever win, and usually the participants will feel foolish about getting caught up in it when things have calmed down.

It was different when we had to interact face to face.  Typing seems less threatening than screaming with spittle, but the words hurt just the same.  Frankly, I think most people hold back more when they're in each other's physical presence.  There's a whole lot of body language reading going on, that we don't have the benefit of online.  I've seen arguments lead to tears, lead to "I'm sorry"s that probably would have gone on and on if the tears hadn't been seen.

There's a lot out there about people being angrier now and rhetoric getting more heated.  I believe that in some ways it is true.  When we had to disagree face to face, we had to deal immediately with the human component of pain.  Online, we're invisible and so are our victims.

Facebook is one of the more insidious networks.  As I said I have a page and it's fun keeping up with what friends and family are up to.  However, there are times when I see things posted that I know are going to hurt other people's feelings.  Comments about parties and functions that other friends weren't invited to, with comments like "Where's my invitation?" posted underneath.  Personally, those things don't bother me.  As an older adult I don't expect to be included in every activity hosted by my more socially active friends.  However, whenever I see those forlorn comments I wonder, did the people who posted that info know they were going to hurt feelings and didn't care?  Or are they so wrapped up in being the center of attention that they didn't even think about it?

There's a "here I am, look at me!" aspect to facebook and twitter that I find disturbing.  There are those people who just have fun with it and enjoy the interaction, which I believe is the case with my facebook friends, (If I thought otherwise, I'd unfriend them...which I have done!).  However, there are also people on these sites who are total narcissists who engage in "it's all about me" with impunity.  These people and those who use the sites to bully and harrass others give the whole social networking phenomenon a bad name.
I'm afraid that we've lost our capacity to agree to disagree, to go along to get along, and to live and let live.  I'm sure many of your mothers told you "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  If we all did that in our social interactions, wouldn't the world be a better place? 

I'm not saying that there aren't times when bullies and evil types need to get a dressing down, but why are we making our sister unhappy, or our neighbor, or our friend?  I don't see any benefit to it, only heartache, and all for the sake of a little attention online.

I get as angry as the next person about a lot of things I see and hear, both online and in the "real" world.  However, I decided a while ago that engaging in online arguments with trolls was a waste of my time.  If I was commenting because I thought what I said was right, what right did I have to attack someone else's opinion?  It got me to thinking about what's really important, and winning an argument of wits with a person I considered to be unarmed wasn't worth the emotional toll.

So, this year I'm making a committment to be considerant in my posts, (no more rants about rubber glove art quilters), to try my hardest not to get caught up in comment fights, and to make sure I don't innocently post something on facebook that might hurt someone else's feelings.  I don't want to add to the pain in the world, there's enough of that already.

Frankly, if I just used the good manners my mother taught me, I'd get along just fine....

Happy Stitching!



Seams Inspired said...


Sharyn Mallow Woerz said...

I closed my facebook account a few months ago. Too much of a time eater. I'd rather quilt.

Happy New Year, Sharyn

Tizzie said...

I'm only on FB because my kids are and I monitor her activities. I like to "fans" of certain authors to keep up with them and FB is an easy way to do so.

I've gotten into many a sticky social mess with an errant comment or two. Just how many LOLs or smiley faces can one insert to make sure that the proper tone or inflection is properly perceived? This particularly comes into play when you have only had relations with people online and never met them in person.