August 29, 2014

Why We (Sometimes) Fail at the Internet. ~ Melissa Horton


Ah, the glorious, all-powerful Interwebs—a environment that breeds creativity and connection, empathy and compassion, where a wealth of information is at our fingertips at the exact moment we need or desire it.

That’s all well and good, until it ceases to be.

Take a quick scroll through your social media menagerie and my guess is that it will only take a moment to stumble upon (pun intended, sorry) a type of negativity that will break even the strongest of souls.

I spent the majority of my morning meditation time—which, by the way, consists of a pretty mundane routine of way too much coffee while skimming actual news articles along with a refresh or two of the almighty Facebook feed—perusing a site I had never visited before.

A friend posted an article about the perils of motherhood, which has little to nothing to do with who I am in this present moment.

But the title caught my attention. It was one part satire and two parts awful, so I felt compelled to click. Welcome to the insane world of online attention grabbing, I suppose. I digress—the article was a list of 10 mom-types that “suck,” according to the author’s less than subtle perspective. There was a giggle or two, a wince here and there, and then… the blessed comments section blew my mind in the worst way.

I read and read and read until my head hurt and my heart cracked open.

Although it wasn’t a new experience, it was as shocking as it was depressing.

My fellow humans, berating one another as if they had the right to do so, in such a violent and ugly manner I felt like I could vomit all over my keyboard. I won’t force you to take that long, dark journey with me by repeating the exact nastiness that appeared on my screen—there were over a thousand comments, most of which were aimed at one quickly labeled ‘troll’ type.

I could see how each party throwing virtual stones felt strongly they had something of worth to contribute, but within the first five responses, it was a complete shit show. The synopsis is simple: a handful of moms against single, unmarried, non child-bearing types, it seemed, and the initial commenter who fell into that category was being beaten down by each and every one of them.

They all had off putting opinions, so I, to some extent, understood the flurry of word bullets being shot back and forth. But none of it came with any level of understanding, or empathy, or compassion for the other’s perspective. Right or wrong, each and every one of them crossed the line.

Why I continued to read can only be explained by the train wreck phenomenon, wanting to redirect my attention elsewhere, but I was utterly paralyzed by the impending doom. It progressed quickly into a cursing match, and I, near tears, closed my browser completely.

Lately, I’ve found myself caught up in this unsettling trend. Not contributing through a comment of my own, but standing (well, sitting) idly by and experiencing the hate and anger rise up in others, for causes that seem less than worthy of our time. But this “conversation” struck a bit harder than normal because of seething hate that could be seen from this sleepy-eyed passerby.

I questioned my time management skills first, as I had wasted an hour of my life reading the hateful bull shit others decided to place on a public forum—and then, I asked the more important question. One I think we all can rally around.

Why in the hell is this a thing?

If this was a one-off experience, I wouldn’t be compelled to write to the masses. But, we all know, it isn’t.

I don’t have an answer to why it happens, but I do know this glaring truth. Although the Internet can be a place for connection, as well as a pretty powerful channel to impact change, most of us are utilizing this tool all wrong. Myself included.

We use it as a platform, a soapbox, a megaphone to the universe—and we use it bash those who have varied opinions and less than well thought out responses to blog posts.

Having this media channel where we are all perceived as equal voices, no matter our cause, is a blessing as much as it is a curse. Our society seems so caught up in the need for instant gratification that we forget just how powerful—and potentially hurtful—our words can be when shared without taking a mindful moment to think beforehand.

An article moves us—posted and shared. Awesome.

A picture or video offends us—posted and shared, with comments to that effect. Less awesome, but I suppose, on some level, understandable.

Another’s words don’t line up with our world view—posted and shared, with a raised fist of frustration and hate, and an invitation for others to join in the bashing.

Say what?

What are we doing? What purpose does it serve to dilute the greatest medium for communication we have seen in our lifetime for negativity and nonsense? Whether we are the cause or we allow another to poison the things we decide are worthy of sharing, the Internet becomes a putrid place, and quickly.

Please don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that every piece of information posted needs to be rainbows and unicorns and love and light. Although that would be a lovely shift, it isn’t realistic. Life is hard, people are suffering, and reaching out for comfort and support is a beautiful thing.

But when we turn on our neighbors, our friends, our equals, we screw up the entire equation. We’re all trolls, then, feeding off and ultimately perpetuating the negative crap that so quickly litters our virtual lives.

I realize these 1000-ish words won’t change the course of many paths today, but my hope is that this will prompt each and every one of us to stop for a moment before we engage with negativity online. This virtual world is only as beautiful as we make it, so I invite you to accept this challenge.

Take a breath, think about how truly powerful those words can be, and make your mindful move.




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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Flickr, Daniel Lobo


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