The internet in all its worldly glory and infinite ability to disseminate information – the likes of which we have never before seen in the history of humanity – can be a venomous serpent. It’s forked tongue flickers and strikes; its opinionated fangs full of hate, hubris and vitriol. I feel the poisonous spite pierce my skin and heart and I’m left diminished, baulking, ashamed at what humanity appears to have become.
New ideas are persecuted.
Old ideas are ridiculed.
The serpent has long been used both as a symbol of knowledge and a symbol of danger or harm. It is apt to conjure this image in representation of the internet – or rather the behaviour of some of its users.
Human beings are inherently social creatures. We seek out socialisation, to congregate, to simply be with other beings of similar sentience. In this world of urban and suburban isolation where the neighbours are physically close and emotionally distant, unapproachable, and we only move in circles we’ve always moved in, more and more we retreat to online spaces seeking refuge from loneliness – to have our innate needs for socialisation met.
Yet in the anonymity and partial anonymity the internet offers we are never really known. We yearn to be accepted and supported, for someone to agree with us, to indulge our ego or perhaps to express some poorly informed opinion we are seduced into feeling righteous about. The anonymity protects us. We don’t have to be real, we don’t have to get close.
And therein lies the issue.
This guise of partial anonymity comes with an unfortunate freedom from conscience and freedom from consequence. Just as I am less real online, so too are others to me. I need not be concerned with what may be socially detrimental to another, nor deliver my words mindfully with thoughtful respect.
Suddenly I’m more opinionated. I have a confidence of opinion and a numbness of connection. I cannot feel the direction of a conversation, nor the meaning behind the words, nor the person speaking. I need not wait my turn to pipe up or enter a conversation – all I have to do is type.
Yet I am not this emotionless, thoughtless, disconnected being. I am a person. I have heart, and soulful thought and meaning in my life. I am a whole person. My whole life in its full glorious spectrum of its many experiences has led me to this very point. And who are others to judge?
But judge they do. And further judgements I pass, fuelled by the hurt of criticism – the need of the human being to feel right, to be righteous, to build themselves high by belittling those others. So what do I do? I type at those others. I tell them what I think. I build within my language a tone of sarcasm, I slap you with a statistic, and beat you with words and logic. I armour myself with “likes” and approval of those who already agree – or at least think they do.
To what end? To insult and demean the very person whose opinions I hope to influence? To have you abhor the facts I present you with or for you to resent a particular line of logic? Some may feel the sting and bite of words and choose to rise above them, and to consider the facts within the vitriol. This is unlikely. Most will return to the safety of their self-managed newsfeeds, search for anything which validates their own opinion and say “see, I knew I was right”.
Or perhaps they’ll type. They’ll type about why I’m wrong, and why they’re right. A self-perpetuating cycle devoid of meaning.
That is not my promise here.
My promise here is to see you, Reader, in your humanness. To consider the person behind the other screen. Whilst our choices may differ and our views be opposed, it is not you I question. It is not you I argue.
What I do question are systems. What I do debate are facts and their source. What I do challenge is logic, the lines which connect the dots. Because when the lines connect different dots a different picture emerges.
By all means question my reasoning, ask about my facts, seek to understand first (I’ll do the same) but do not persecute me.
Because safe places are necessary. Because persecution and vitriol and slander just get in the way. They get in the way of ideas, of fruitful, necessary debate.
We are running out of food on this planet. Many, many don’t have enough to eat. Or clean water. Or money for school shoes. The Earth is dying, her resources are being sucked dry. Our climate is changing. Children are being abused. Inequity in all its forms is still a cultural stain. Our health is failing. There is war. And there are many, many more problems which need solutions now.
So I implore you. Tread with care on the internet. Create safe places wherever you go. And talk about things which matter.