Is Social Media making us “meaner”?

Before Social Media it seems to me that people were far more polite. There was no such thing as dropping an acerbic comment and fleeing into the night as though you never did it. Being accountable was far more prevalent before the internet. In many exchanges I see things happening that normally would not even hit the real world radar because, if speaking in person to another person, much of what goes out online would simply just stay in.

This happened to me last year when a relative lectured me on how to use Facebook after I posted a “funny” about how we would never walk up to strangers with pictures of our dinner, etc, yet we do it on the internet. My relative talked all about herself and why she is on Facebook and how she uses it while telling me “the internet is not about us” even though her pages were all about her, her family, her…you get the picture. I replied and she blocked me. Go figure. Why she even took such an arrogant stance over a “funny” to lecture one who has been years on Social Media is beyond me. Yet, she did. And apparently did not appreciate my answer. To this day I would guess she is still blaming others for her own arrogant digital deliverances.

The problem is when people online develop this sense of superiority, they throne themselves to become queen or king of the land in ways that they would never do in the real world. In the real world my relative likely would never have said a thing to me. Or if she had, she might apologize for lecturing me and just respect me as I am but, from what I have witnessed, that would never happen on the internet. Rarely do I see anyone apologizing for anything on the internet. I don’t think I have ever seen it. Yet. 

The American political state is constantly showing up in my feed, manic posters of all things one party or the other. Would those manic posters run up to me on the street and bombard me like that with all manner of biased media that may or may not even be true? No. So don’t do it online.

It actually looks quite silly if you ask me. Remember the conversational rule of no politics and no religion? Well, I do and do my best to avoid both online. Your religious and political business is just that, yours. Nobody else needs to know and sometimes when posters over post, I wonder, who are you trying to convince anyway, me or yourself? Silence is truly golden on the internet.

Now, that said, don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy the benefits of social media from staying connected to long distance loved ones to being able to connect with people from all corners of the world. And I do care what happens in the U.S. election because it will affect all of us in some way or other. But I don’t need to see regurgitated newscasts or manic posts favoring one side. Just this morning my Facebook feed was so leaden with all of that, I thought, I am getting really sick and tired of Facebook.  Posed, air brushed or filtered images, posts competing for attention in such a false environment surely cannot be as healthy as life in the “real world.” Not much point doing a daily check in online any more, one day just blends into another in the land of doctored images and bogus articles shared by those who don’t even check into whether what they post or share is true or not. Freeing in some way to not do a daily check in, really, one less thing to do every day. You can leave social media for days and still miss nothing.

From the confines of my bed where I have the least physical pain, I write this to say that I have found people growing more and more short with one another since the internet became so user friendly and, to some, so addictive. No manners. No patience. No time. No consideration. The land of Meme’s has created many a monster in my observation over this past decade alone. Time for a change for the better.

What is especially frightening is how this “impatience” dynamic transfers to the “real world.” Yes, there was road rage before the internet but now it seems to multiply daily as though there is a back street factory breeding angry people. People seem all too willing to be nasty online, posting nasty videos, nasty comments and nasty assumptions. I recently posted a challenge to my hundreds of followers on one social site. It was very simple: share one thing for someone or do or say something kind online and come back here to tell us what you did. Only one person, yes, only one out of hundreds of people even responded. Yet, had I posted something political or otherwise contentious, the reactions would be multiplying by the minute just as they did when I recently shared something for one political party just to see what the outcome would be. Well, I was jumped on like nobody’s business with all sorts of negative (of course they were against not for the side I chose to post about), some even stooping to hateful comments and name calling. Imagine. Adults. I cannot but it happened. Acting out online in ways you never normally would in the real world is most distasteful. 

When we were growing up, if we said or did such rude or unkind things we might find ourselves getting clipped about the ears or scolded at the very least. Behaving meanly or cruelly was never in fashion when I was growing up. But then, we didn’t have all this “trending” business going on to keep up with either. I recently commented that people who watch bloody, gory violence for entertainment and then cry out against it when onscreen press or media outlets report about same bloody violence in their town or about people they know onscreen, are upholding a double standard. Why “selectively” balk at it if you watch those bloody, gory zombie shows for entertainment? Isn’t that a double standard? Or are we so desensitized that the gore does not move us unless it hits close to home? Still, I find that to be a double standard, too. Bloody, gory zombie shows have no place in my world, no double standard here.  Yet, no matter the double standard, it appears all too many just jump on the “anger”  band wagon online. What is confounding to me is always this: why do they think they are so important that anyone cares what they have to say anyway? Humility, this is what I wish for those self aggrandizing, angry and inconsiderate people. Humility.

Reducing our language down to symbols, emojis and consonants has not helped at all. Everything is so sped up there is so much online to amuse and titillate (what a word, reminds me of my older brother who once called television the “glass teat” and he was right about that, too), humans are walking and driving into one another daily because they cannot, rather, will not look up from their gadgets whether distracted walking, driving or even biking as I recently saw a man doing. Distracted driving is now said to be causing as many deaths as speeding does.

As with all things in life, moderation is the key. But how can you reach those humans who insist on being “plugged in” 24/7? I do not know the answer to that. I only know I do not like this new culture of ours where being online is mostly where it’s at and truly being with one another, sincerely valuing one another is reduced to almost nothing. In my world, valuing one another is the purpose of life.

Impatience and intolerance appear to be on the rise everywhere with strangers in line ups cursing about the time even if the line up is moving quite well and would be considered a good thing pre-internet. It seems any amount of time longer than a “click” that gouges into the “me me me” gadget time is cause for haughty reactions or verbal grouching aloud to people you don’t even know or loved ones who don’t deserve that abuse. All this I have seen repeatedly from supposed adults who should know better. Far better.

Maybe it’s time for a new trend. A giant internet takeover that demands you get your “human” on again and shut all else off. I always think to myself, what if the power went out? What would you do? Those of you addicted to your clicky clacky internet fixes, what would you do? Would you grow angry as most addicts do when their addiction of choice is suddenly removed? Would you even care that getting angry over no internet just proves you should not be on it, you are not living your life in balance and need to get all that out of whack stuff in line again? Probably not is my guess. Everything in the online world is me me me and now now now. No, make that me first, me first, me first and right now, right now, right now.

And before you say it, yes this is being posted on the internet. But I don’t get on all three of my mainly used sites every day, I just don’t have that kind of energy. Mostly I try to check in for friends, family and loved ones. I don’t really care what else is going on in the world, I just want to know they are okay or see their latest photos of the long distance family members spending time together. Those joyful things are why I don’t completely disconnect from it all.

As a writer I have other online connections, too, from health groups to writing groups to writer friends. Still, I can go many weeks without checking in on those groups or connections and miss absolutely nothing. Given the choice, I might be one of those who says let’s go back before the internet when hand written letters were treasured and real time in the real world with your real people was not just valued but joyfully anticipated. No gatherings of people all looking down at their gadgets would you see in my world as I do even in restaurants where parents and children don’t talk, they just “gadget,” only looking up to grunt as the wait staff serve them. Not a pretty sight. Well, that’s me. Old fashioned to the core and loving all things nostalgic, anything that does not include the “snob boxes” of what I see as our current impatient and hot headed culture who expect everything in life to take just “one click” or the huffing and puffing begins.

What are your thoughts, do you think we have become more angry and intolerant as a society on the whole since the advent of the internet, specifically social media? Do you think manners are on the decline?

Time to celebrate and value others in the “real world” if you ask me. Talk softly and carry a big Q-Tip is all I know to do. Who knows, someone might need it after all those years of not listening, hearing or understanding properly.

(c) Janni Styles

Please note the use of “you” in this piece is only in reference to those living angrily out of balance on the internet, internet, internet. Of course, they likely won’t read this anyway… they will be too busy lashing out at someone somewhere over nothing at all, making no good difference in the world whatsoever.