The Great Divide

Have you ever noticed? Every time there is an “event” we sit on our phones or computers hitting “refresh” anxious to see the latest pictures, read the latest updates, hear the most recent “takes” on the situation by whatever talking head, pundit or agitator is out there spouting off about it.

It is as if we think that by keeping on top of what is happening right now, we can somehow change events, hurry they up, or maybe slow them down. Perhaps we think that by hitting the “repost” button as quickly as possible, we can make things better, or at least let others know where we stand, add our voice to the cause, or the protest, or the general outcry.

Or maybe it is that by being the first (or one of the first) to share a news item or even a cute meme or video, we feel that we have done our part to inform others, to show just how connected we are. Or maybe it is because by coming up with just the post or meme or video, we feel that we have created something, contributed something to society even.  

At the risk of dating myself, I can remember a time when you had to wait to turn on the news at 6:00 p.m., or pick up the evening edition of the paper if you lived in a larger city, to get updated on what had happened that day. Sometimes there would be special bulletins that would be announced over the radio, letting you know that something extra important was in the works, and then you could go flip on the TV and see if there was a news bulletin, someone looking somber and serious saying “we interrupt this program to bring you the following important live coverage…” But unless you were listening to the radio, or were watching TV all day, you might not have a clue that something “newsworthy” had happened until it came up on the local or national news that evening. Or, if it was an ongoing event, they would announce what had happened on the 6 O’clock news and then say “film at eleven”.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those were better times. The internet is a wonderful thing. It has not only brought local communities together by providing a public forum for questions, ideas and interests, it has also molded us into a global community; a community where what happens to one of us, happens to all of us.  

When someone in Hawaii losses a loved one to out of control wildfires, when a young woman in Ukraine tweets in the middle of her night each time the sky is filled with incoming drones and missiles, when koala bears are burning to death in Australia, when another school shooter is on the rampage, or floods are devastating the Philippines, we are “there,” by proxy, glued to the cell phones or dash cams taking pictures in real time, on the edge of our seats as the journalists at ground zero record events live for posterity, acting, if you will, as witnesses to the event(s) as they unfold.

The upside to not knowing what was happening right now, was that I never used to find myself having sudden anxiety attacks in the middle of the day over, or continually hitting refresh to get the latest updates on something that was happening on the other side of the country, or the other side of the world. I would get the news in due time. I would be impressed or horrified by it, but it didn’t shape my entire day.

The internet can be used as quite the tool for good. It allows us to organize relief efforts and fundraisers almost instantly, beg government officials for help, trend topics to bring awareness to a particular situation and even organize resistance to undemocratic decisions. But, as we are all aware, it also has its “down” side.  

In addition to acting as a tool for information and action, the internet can also be a cesspool of hatred, anger, bigotry, sexism, racism and disinformation. The same platforms that draw us closer, also, through use of algorithms tuned to ‘most user interactions can also work to drive us apart by highlighting the differences between nations, cultures, races, sexes and communities.

The relative anonymity provided by the computer screen seems to bring out the worst in some people, encouraging them to say all the hateful, spiteful, crude and downright mean things that they would never have dared to say in public.

The influence these trolls have had on society in general can be seen in the growing instance by some people, that saying hurtful things to people in real life instead of from behind a computer keyboard, is just “exercising ones first amendment rights” and that the person spewing the hatred is “just keeping it real.” Never mind that bullying, (and that is what it is) whether carried out online or in person, whether it focuses on ones appearance, sexual orientation, race, political stance or even religious beliefs, can drive someone to – and sometimes over – the brink to self-harm, or even suicide.  

I’ve run into this time and again, and inevitably I find myself asking the troll “why?” Why did you feel the need to say these hurtful things? Why is it so important to you to make this person feel bad? Why do you feel it necessary to ‘prove someone wrong’ instead of just walking away (or in the case of online arguments, scrolling away) from the fight?  Why do you care so much about making other people feel awful?

And speaking of online trolls, why do so many people who would normally consider themselves as decent human beings (caring for their families, attending church, helping out in communities) seem to get such a kick out of knocking someone down from what they perceive of as their “high horse” or crumbling their ivory tower? These people’s attitudes are ones of glee as they say “Welcome to the real-world dude. Here, roll around in the muck like the rest of humanity. You thought you were so important/smart/beautiful/talented, but have I got news for you! Loser! Don’t you dare to have any hopes or dreams for the future that are not achievable for everyone, or you suck, and I will remind you that you suck by making your online (or even in-person) life a hellscape in the name of ‘keeping it real’.”  

If you are even a halfway decent person you will understand what I mean when I say that it hurts to be continually inundated by the anger and pain and suffering and hatred that seems to seem into the very bones of social media, and to have to continually check sources to see if they are legitimate or are spewing disinformation, is the video a deep fake? Is the picture or story AI generated?  

This isn’t how we were meant to live.  

The tool that is supposed to make us better people, better informed people, is also giving us migraines and indigestion and anxiety attacks because it is also so often mis-used.

There are days when I just want to unplug from all of the continual updates, from the angry voices and the homeless animals and the sweeping wildfires and the continual ‘live’ news updates on everything from indited past presidents to current jobs reports and just chill out. Relax. Let a day go by without being at the continual beck and call of this electronic umbilical cord to the world. Spend the day in my garden, chill out on the couch with my cat and a book and a cup of hot chocolate. Go for a long walk on a beach with no cell phone service.  

In fact, I feel like taking a walk now. Want to come with me? I know a great place to find sea glass, and we could take a picnic!

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