The ability to communicate with anyone in the world in real time could have been the breakthrough we needed to finally move past all the issues that plague us. Economic imbalances could have been exposed and prioritized, social barbarism could have been purged, and universal altruism achieved. But that obviously hasn’t happened.
It has been 17 years since the first major social media company launched and like many of you, I first joined with sheepish sanguine. Reconnecting with long-lost friends was fantastic; it was like a high school reunion without the awkwardness. From what I saw, everything seemed to be going well for everyone, everywhere, all the time. It was of course all a lie, just like people lie at reunions about how well things are going for them.
The conversations and images seen on social platforms are not indicative of real-world experiences, but rather counterfeit imitations of the life they covet. There have been many studies in the intervening years about the depressive impact this false vision of perfection causes in its observers. Knowing these images to be deceiving, but believing them anyway, even fractionally, builds a foundation of dislike rather than the “like” or “thumbs up” regretfully marked underneath them.
Those who are brave enough to express unfiltered opinions are quickly fettered by faceless hoards. When I first joined and started posting online, my physical interactions with my friends and followers were still recent. Repartee was respectful and good intentioned. When there is a chance you might actually run into the person you are conversing with, online discussion takes a much different tone. There is a reason the term “Facebook friend” is now quite distinct from “friend;” you treat them differently.
As we voluntarily self-isolate for pandemic reasons, we should recognize people have been increasing their social self-isolating for years. Anyone who disagrees with your post gets quickly unfollowed or muted and you are the surely the victim of another’s purge. The further removed our most recent physical interaction with someone, the more liberties we take in blunt, disrespectful, cruel and abusive language towards our opposites. Even families are not spared.
It might be too late to cure this opprobrium. Our online interactions are increasingly sequestered, reaching only the like-minded remainders. It gives the author the illusion of exposition with temporary satisfaction, but it is really a self-built intellectual prison.
To make real impact with others and actually be heard, we need to increase our real interaction. Our sense of compassion will only be restored when participating in the community, conversing with others, sharing their burdens, acting empathetically, and demoting our online nugatory interactions. Make a resolution to talk to people this year, text them directly instead of liking their post. Having one real conversation with someone could be the breakthrough we all need.
Dan Jones is Commercial Lines Account Manager, Surety Bonds, for Norton Insurance.