This post is a bad idea—an invitation for indignation. Because I’m about to suggest we all act a little less controversial and, these days, suggesting less controversy has become the most controversial thing you can do…
Electronic communication is in its adolescence.
Blogging is about twenty years old (the word “blog” was first coined in 1999). For all intents and purposes, text messaging is about fifteen years old (texts could not be exchanged between phone networks until the turn of the century). And Facebook just reached the end of its first decade of public use (until 2006, Facebook was exclusively for college students).
Electronic communication is like a teenager.
And it’s doing what all teenagers do: it’s getting angry.
Online, we’re acting like right and wrong is obvious and what we believe is obviously right. Like uniformity is the only valid kind of community. Like someone else’s opinion is a direct threat to the validity of our own. Like it’s our job to be unwavering. Like talking back is the only way to talk. Like the only way to be yourself is to shout down all other selves.
To be enraged is all the rage.
To rant is to be righteous.
To be verbally violent is to be virtually virtuous.
We have become so comfortable with the everyday Facebook rant, we even expect it from our politicians and our pundits and our pulpits. In fact, we demand it.
I may not rant on Facebook, but I’ve been watching myself closely, and I have plenty of anger in me—dark stares and distraught sighs and dangerous sarcasm. Why? Because I’m ordinary. I’m human. We are, all of us, carrying within us an awful lot of anger, whether we realize it or not.
Anger isn’t new.
It’s been seething beneath the surface of our complicated humanity for millennia. Our anger wasn’t created by Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging and all our many forms of electronic communication. But they have given us just enough degrees of separation to feel comfortable unleashing it. And the problem is, once unleashed online, it gets hard to cage it again. Once typed out, it gets way easier to act it out. Then it becomes a habit. A way of life.
Fortunately, there is a way to grow out of our online adolescence.
It’s called uncertainty.
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