By Jack Canfora
I’ve had pneumonia the last week or so (who gets pneumonia in June? I feel like I’m in a Eugene O’Neil play). I’m basically fine now, but the outpouring of thoughts, cards, money orders, and prayers was quite touching, not to mention the benefit concert, which was simply remarkable. That Bono really gets me. Thank you.
Anyway, I spent more time on the Twitter machine than I normally do, or is frankly advisable for any primate. On my feed there was a tweet from someone I didn’t know of a picture featuring a damaged car, and the tweet claimed this person did it. Needless to say, many people called this person out, and the poster mocked these people, saying they couldn’t take a joke. Now, it may have been the antibiotics talking, but for reasons I can’t justify, I felt compelled to comment, pointing out that humor depends on context, and as most of us don’t know you, twitter person, your joke is stripped of context, therefore making a literal interpretation quite plausible.
The fury I received from this person’s supporters would have made sense had I kidnapped the Lindbergh baby and raised him to recruit generations of terrorists to stage 9/11. Dumber still on my part, I tried to respond and reason ( I know, I deserved everything I got for this foolhardy choice). The cluster of Millennials, or not cluster, what’s the collective noun for Millennials on Twitter? A Smug? I kid, Millennials, I kid (mostly). Anyway, they piled on me gleefully and at length. I think the tweets at me were meant to be insulting. Well, they were insulting. But if calling me a “Dweeb” is your idea of a putdown, I’m pretty comfortable with my chances of surviving the onslaught.
But this isn’t about me. Well, of course it’s about me. I’m a writer. And I’m writing about something that happened to me. So, scratch that earlier sentence. But here’s the least surprising conclusion ever drawn: people are mean on the internet. I know. Take a minute if you need to. And rest assured, I have no real fresh insights as to how or why this happens. My question is more: which is truer to our natures? The thrilling compulsive urge to “own” total strangers with cruelty, or even outrage hatred, or the attempt most of us make IRL (In real life for you Boomers, OK?) treat people with civility. I’m not smart enough to know, but I would say (again, not a unique thought) that the Lord of the Flies etiquette that dominates social media discourse has long since seeped into our everyday lives.
We’re a wacky species. We have taken a tool that was designed to offer more information more easily more democratically than at any time in history, and it has become, more times than not, a marketplace for our worst impulses. I get it. None of this is groundbreaking. But my question to you is this: is this state of affairs reparable? Can we bring about the good climate change in our virtual world as efficiently as we propagate the bad kind in the real world? For many of us, is the term “real world” more fluid and nebulous than it should be?
So, I want a 500 word essay on my desk by Monday outlining your solutions, MLA style. JK. I’m just curious as to how comfortable are you with the pervasiveness of online culture and how hopeful are you it can change? My feeling? The technology outpaced out collective maturity. Can we catch up?