Loss of Civility

I find myself spending less and less time in my online environments.

What an odd perspective to throw out there in today’s modern, information-centric society. Its an odd point of thought for me as well. I started my life’s career as a computer technologist. I learned how the technology worked, how to repair it, how to work it, how to utilize it as a tool and essentially work magick with it. I learned how to take this machine and bend it to my will and cause it to return the results I was seeking. Then the internet came along, and the modern-day society I was a part of moved right in. Information was brought to this online environment. From 2000 to 2004, I essentially utilized the online environment and its wonderful capacity as an information tool to leverage my abilities as an online technician. As a societal tool, I have used the internet to forge some wonderful friendships – and continue to maintain many others – where I would not have previously had the opportunity to do so. In many ways, my online environments have helped to shrink the world around me – and provide me with the ability to stretch my personal networks and knowledge in ways I would never have dreamed possible.

But something has changed in the last five to six years. Its not the friendly, upbeat, welcoming environment it once was. Or at least as it once seemed to be. I see far more cynicism, anger, and hatred leveled at people than ever before. I am quite sure part of it comes from the anonymity that the internet provides for all of us. Its a key feature of what makes the internet what it has become – a free speech platform, where people can share ideas, and provide truthful commentary on the events in the world without fear of reprisal. That measure of free speech is a driving force of what makes democratic society what it is today. The precept that everyone is free to voice their opinion is a prized part of what makes our society what it has become. That free speech allows us to share ideas and concepts that would not be put forth in a more closed, controlled society. But that prized measure of free speech brings other aspects with it. Aspects that certainly do turn my stomach.

I am bombarded with it all the time in Facebook, in Emails forwarded from friends, in targeted Email advertisements from political groups I would never have signed up for, in MeMes that are plastered into my Google Plus feed from friends of friends of friends, in television advertising campaigns, in radio talk shows, books that have been written on a wide variety of subjects, magazines advertisements, newspaper articles…it seemingly comes from everywhere. Anger – however correct or misguided – aimed towards the governments ability – or inability – to govern in the manner that a loud, passionate few agree – or disagree – with. Blatant racism towards a political figure, simple because he or she is the wrong skin color for a particular group. Smear tactics towards political perspectives that differ from one’s own that would make Joseph Goebbels blanch. Disgust over what some celebrity does in their personal life or the sexual persuasion that they espouse towards or denigrate. Calls to boycott some business over this reason or another. Pick one. Add more choices to that pile. Its a constant barrage of negativity.

And even more odd…this huge pile of negativity boils over into the rest of our lives as well. I routinely get cut off and flipped off in traffic here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area – simply because I drive the speed limit on the roadways or come to a complete stop at a stop sign. At one point, I was openly called a “drug dealer” in a mall in Kansas City – simply because of my shoulder-length hair. I have had doors deliberately closed in my face, when carrying a large amount of material in my arms. Several times, I have been nearly run over in the crosswalks in my neighborhood when out for a walk, by impatient or intolerant drivers. I have also been run off the sidewalk by bicyclists.  All of that – and more – makes me wonder what happened to the world around me?

I am not playing the game of looking into the past with rose-colored glasses and seeing the romantic tinge of my past as being a “better” time. I do, however, look into the past and see a far more tolerant society. Certainly, it wasn’t all wine, caviar, and cigarettes out on the veranda…but I do not remember a society filled with near the anger that I see today.

Perhaps there are a wide area of factors at play here. The emergence and rise of divisive politics, with a hardcore abasement and demonizing of the opposite perspective. Perhaps, the anonymity that the internet provides, coupled with the lack of face-to-face communications in heated discussions emboldens individuals to lower the level of conversation to one of open insults. Maybe its the instant access to materials and information through the internet that has turned society into an impatient and intolerant mass when the pace of life is slowed for whatever reason.

Perhaps there are other reasons that I simply cannot see or comprehend at the moment…or maybe I am just being overly sensitive. Whatever the reason, I certainly have noticed that I am curtailing a lot of my online activities. I do not invite negativity to linger within my life for a long period of time. I know that life is not always a rosy outlook every single day – but I do know that like activity invites like feeling. I know I cannot remove negativity from life…its a factor of living. But it certainly does not need to be a primary one for me. As Joseph Campbell invokes throughout “The Power of Myth” — follow your bliss. And sadly, I just don’t see much that is blissful in the current mush of the online social platforms.

Social media platforms are tools. As such, the tools are only as good as what we put into them. They can only provide the emphasis and intention that we place into them. And I do realize that everything I have noted above about social platforms – I am just as guilty as anyone else. I am not choosing to abandon the social media platforms I am part of – I am simply refusing to continue in the pattern that I am seeing. I use these platforms to connect with friends, listeners of the podcast, readers of my blog….and I will continue to do so. How will I change?? I am not completely sure, but I do know that this blog post is the first step.

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