Social media is a largely context-less environment. That is, people give life updates to others who have a marginal knowledge of what’s actually going on in their lives. The danger in this is that we “like” or give approval to statements without understanding what prompted the statement to begin with. Consequently we can unwittingly encourage our “friends” in behavior and beliefs that we otherwise would not if we were present in their lives.
Last year I met Mark.
Mark and I hit it off great. He just started teaching high school and I did that for a couple years, so we traded war stories. For a whole afternoon we shared tales and complained about the ridiculousness that can be public education.
Later in the week I got a Facebook friend request from him and accepted it. Why wouldn’t I?
Then I learned that for him Facebook was an outlet where he poured out his utter contempt of all things religious and conservative. Every sardonic post was heavy with disdain for those ignorant morons who did not share his view. They hate science. They hate gays. They hate reason. They hate women. They hate…they hate…they hate. With as much bile, sarcasm and mockery that one could muster he decried the “hate” of those who differed with him.
I didn’t mind. I have no problem with people who have strong opinions that differ from mine. Even when they hatefully accuse those who share my views as ignorant, stupid, and…um…hateful.
But then I realized something. After a few months, whenever I thought of Mark I didn’t think of that guy that had a great conversation with me. I thought solely of his Facebook rants. Facebook, and the way he used it, were altering my perception. I began to have this image of a hate-filled, belligerent Mark. Filled with rage and mockery. Why would I want to ever be friends with a guy like that?
Even though he may feel this strongly about certain issues, they do not encapsulate his personality. Yes, they are part of him…and I disagree with him on these issues profoundly. But Facebook was reducing him to a characture of himself.
So I hid his updates.
I have to date, hidden a few people for the same reason. Not because I disagree with them, but because I realized Facebook statuses were replacing their personalities as mental icons. And that’s not really the way they are.
I’m learning that social media not only requires wisdom in representing yourself accurately, but also in what you read. Our perceptions are easily skewed.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been spending most of my time either 1) working or 2) trying to console a colicky baby. Talk about a tight schedule.
Speaking of babies…
I had an interesting debate this week on abortion over Twitter. I know this person, or at least have met him a few times in person, so it’s not a situation where either of us are arguing with a stranger on the other side of a screen. Even though we don’t know each other too well.
First, an observation about these type of discussions on Twitter. I will go on with the person ad nauseam. In every instance that I have debated the other person always ends first with something to the effect of “this isn’t something I wish to continue on Twitter.” I never attack the person. I stick to the topic and use, to the best of my ability, logic and reason. The other person catches on that this isn’t a name calling contest and in every instance realizes that they are engaged in a civil debate. However, civil debate on hot topics is something the medium of Twitter does not easily facilitate.
To paraphrase Neil Postman, You can’t use smoke signals to discuss quantum theory.
In other words, the medium is too small for the message. One hundred and forty characters at a time to small, in this case.
At any rate, I’ve noticed people typically are quick to whip out witty sayings to one-up their opponent. But when logic and reason are brought in they eventually bail. (For the record, my conversation this week went on longer than most, but more on that tomorrow.) I don’t think this is because they are necessarily ill-equipped to debate with logic, though that may be the case for some. Instead, I think they begin to feel the weight of the subject and feebleness of the medium, albeit unconsciously.
This is a huge liability of Twitter and one that requires personal intellectual honesty to handle nobly. I never make statements that I’m not willing to back up or engage in a lengthy discussion over, even if I have to take it to email.
And neither should you.
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