We Used to Speak in Essays

Syndicated

We distill our points down to the jab, to the wit, to the pointy tip, and then we fling it out into the Internet and see who catches it and what they make of it. We derive self-worth from getting "liked" and being told what we said is "SO TRUE."

One of these alone would be rough. The two of them combined is a death sentence.

Here's what this pile of changes means for us:

It means that if you have a network of people you mostly agree with, you are now living in a self-sustaining propaganda machine, able to share inflammatory emotional statements and feel like everyone around you agrees with you. (Even if they don't, or have other friends who feel strongly in other directions. You're never really sure how your words land with the people who feel too alienated to engage.)

It also means that if you have a mixed network of people with dramatically different viewpoints, you now see multiple propaganda machines. You see someone saying something offensive and someone being offended in the same scroll. You see anger and name-calling, and you can imagine the face of their target because that person is your friend, too. You…

Okay, sorry. I. Let's be clear, this is about me. This is what I see. And it's painful. And the only solutions I have at my fingertips are to

A) Unfriend and hide people until I have a network devoid of diversity and old friends who've found different paths, or

B) Stop looking at Facebook.

I don't accept these options. This is my Internet, too, dammit, and I want something better for us.

I'm not upset that we are passionate people with opinions, criticism, pride, and voices. I'm upset that we're communicating these values in a medium that reduces our points to lolcat-style images with IMPACT white text, and leaves off why we feel this way and how we got here.

I'm also upset that we're using our "inside" voices with an unfiltered audience. And that through the magic of a self-editing News Feed algorithm, we're led to forget that half our contacts exist, and believe that our audience actually is just our friends. Or worse, when we're led to feel like this is Our Page for Expressing Ourselves, and that anyone who has an issue with that is way out of line. Because then we're making people choose between listening to our heated rants and not being able to know us at all.

Broadcasting distilled, emotional battle cries without background context to our entire Rolodexes is further polarizing us as a community. And aren't we polarized enough as it is?

I want us to speak in essays again, to connect compassionately over our differences, to listen, to be respectful, and to learn from each other. The fact that our audience has broadened to everyone we've ever met makes it that much more important to be real, human, and long-form about where we're coming from and why we feel the way we do.

I'm writing this on a blog that I haven't contributed to in a year, because Facebook was easier. Speaking in essays is hard work.

But what if we tried?

Sarah Dopp writes at Dopp Juice and should probably spend less time on Facebook.

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