I’ve had a few unsavory run-ins (and yes, that’s the right word) with people on other people’s Facebook discussions lately. You know, the kind when you’re innocuously commenting on someone’s post and then “bam!” someone who feels the need to aggressively disagree shows up. The kind of interaction that frankly just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Typically these run-ins are followed by a private message from the original poster, who’s connected to both of you (and is now in the middle) explaining that while this person is indeed resembling nothing more than a total argumentative a-hole on Facebook, in person they’re wonderful and kind while butterflies and rainbows just stream forth from every orifice of their bodies (ok maybe I exaggerate a bit there…).
Why am I mentioning all this on a blog dedicated to technology you ask? Well it’s also a blog about how people interact with technology, and I am interested in the barriers that technology is lowering – and in this case, it’s interesting to me that all those social norms that exist between real interactions seemingly have little hold once the interaction is through a screen. Why it’s acceptable to be an absolute aggressive jerk to a complete stranger – even though there’s a mutual connection in between.
I know there are the subjects that your mother always taught should be avoided in polite company: I believe it was politics, sex and religion – so Facebook conversations definitely fail on that rule. We’re discussing (arguing about?) subjects that typically you would have never have had with strangers, and probably not with friends either.
But at the same time, there’s not a lot of discussion happening. It seems that somehow it’s become even more important to “put your stake in the ground” about your beliefs/opinions, and then defend them vehemently, as opposed to listening.
Which is where I have an issue with the people who tend towards the “pugnacious”. All this anger they clearly have now has an outlet, where they can exhibit it with complete anonymity or fear of retribution. I (or anyone) have been depersonalized. The barriers to civility are eliminated, allowing for basic personality flaws to be magnified.
And I think that inevitably this elimination of social behavioral norms will spill over into real life: once you’ve gotten used to being able to be aggressive virtually, it’s easier to be it in person.
So while I love technology and how it’s changing our lives, I fear for something that seems to be disappearing: basic courtesy.