Lately, I have resonated a lot with a rage comic that I found on Pinterest a while back:
Unless you’ve been living under a Social Networking rock for the past few weeks, you know that there is/was some serious legislation being presented to the Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage. There have also been a lot of things said about gun control laws. Everybody has something to say about these subjects. They are polarizing issues with strong reactions on both sides, because they have to do with both freedom and morals–two subjects we Americans have pretty strong opinions about.
We’re not going to talk about them here.
You know why?
BECAUSE they are polarizing issues with strong reactions on both sides, and the internet is NOT THE PLACE TO TALK ABOUT THOSE THINGS.
Just existing on the internet and having normal conversations is polarizing enough. Have you SEEN the comments on your favorite Youtube video? The one about the cat being walked on a leash or the fun mashup video of your favorite song and your favorite TV show? I guarantee you, if you scroll through those comments, you will find some ridiculously over-the-top reactions to the very innocent fan creation you just watched. Some people will be posting “OH MY GOSH THIS IS THE BEST VIDEO EVER I’M GOING TO GIVE IT A MILLION LIKES AND SHARE IT WITH ALL OF MY FRIENDS.”
Some people will be posting “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULD MAKE THIS VIDEO. IT SAYS EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER AS A HUMAN BEING THAT YOU MADE/LIKED/COMMENTED ON THIS VIDEO. CLEARLY YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PERSON AND DESERVE TO BE BRUTALLY MURDERED IN YOUR SLEEP.”
Over a cat video. Or a song mashup.
Are you beginning to see the problem yet?
It is extremely difficult to make your opinions known in a well-reasoned, emotionally stable manner on the internet. Without the aids of body language, tone of voice, or the all-too-important context of conversation, anything you write on the internet is inevitably going to be viewed in a polarizing way. When you release an opinion on the internet, that opinion is standalone and absolute. It exists in isolation from your personality, your life experiences, your sarcasm, your qualifying statements that would make your opinion less extreme, everything. It’s just out there, and (as I have mentioned in previous articles) it is perfectly okay for anybody to take it, unpack it, and react to it as they see fit.
This is how we begin to witness knock-down, drag-out fights online over something as innocent and meaningless as who should be cast to play the lead villain in the next Marvel movie, or which Comic book superhero would win in a fight, or which fast food chain’s offerings are good and which ones taste like dog food.
If we can’t have civil, evenheaded conversations online about minor topics like these, how on EARTH do we expect to discuss topics that actually have an influence on our society? Topics that tangibly affect human hearts and lives?
“Now Ronnie,” You may be saying to yourself, or rather to me but I can’t actually hear or respond to you in real time, “Isn’t that awfully hypocritical of you to say? Don’t you inflict your opinions about pretty much everything onto the unsuspecting masses online?”
Yes. I do. These things are not in contradiction–because this is MY blog. It is not a forum that is conducive to conversation. People may comment on this post, and I may or may not reply to them, but I can choose whether or not to get into an argument about the things that I have said. Should this decision ever present itself to me, you will hopefully find that I take my own advice and invariably choose to NOT have that argument.
It is not a question of whether we ought to have something to say about issues, whether they be major or minor. We definitely should. It is perfectly acceptable to have an opinion, even to state your opinion, as long as you are okay with it being read and understood in the polarizing culture of the internet. But when that statement turns into a discussion, and that discussion turns into an argument, there will NEVER BE A RESOLUTION. Because of the nature of arguments online, both you and your opponent will only remain entrenched in your own opinions, firing invective at one another. Even if you couch this in “reasonable” language, giving facts and sources and justifications, I guarantee you that the other side will never admit that you have gained an inch of ground.
Serious discussions need to take place within a forum that appreciates all of the nuances of conversation–and that forum must always be within the context of human relationship and discussion. Isolated from those important factors, we really are just yelling at a screen.
Now, if you need me, I’ll be on Pinterest and/or tumblr, where there are spiffy recipes and pictures from Doctor Who 😀