I used to think that perhaps the lowest form of public discourse was that of the bumper sticker, people tatting up their cars with small, sticky billboards imploring you to stop paying attention to driving and to instead thoughtfully consider how you need to come to Jesus, save the planet or impeach a President to name a few. But oh how static and impersonal that is! Am I supposed to pull someone over and ask them specifically how we can "coexist" or "fight corporate greed"? Or do I carry on a conversation by slapping my own response on the back of my wheels? My favorite example of this would be the Jesus fish and evolution debate. First came the Jesus fish. Then came the 'Darwin' fish with legs added to its body. Before you know it, Jesus fish comes along to eat Darwin fish followed by an even bigger Darwin fish to eat Jesus fish. Then a T-Rex appears and starts eating Jesus fish that is eating Darwin fish! I'm really not sure what point that one is trying to make. The madness climaxes with whole schools of fish swarming across the back of our metal transports!
a savior arises!
But all of this is a horribly inefficient way to carry on completely ineffective dialogue! That's when our savior appeared in the form of the social media revolution! Now we can honor the legacy of bumper stick demagoguery with the added bonus of being able to instantly "share" our own thoughts and feelings with little if any interest in actually listening to the likely total stranger on the other end of the screen. The digital miracle of the "comment" box has freed us of the usual empathy we might feel inspired to have towards someone when we have to sit across from them at a physical platform we call a "table".
Like the bumper sticker, social media comments also enable the easy activism we have all come to love and enjoy. After all, words require no action. My angry emoji will not return to me later and demand that I call my legislator. My comment on corporate greed will not force me to alter my shopping habits. And when a culture develops wherein all we are know for is our words, no one will ever really care if I actually took actions to effect real change.
so let's get serious
OK, I'll bring the sarcastic rant to a close. Let's get serious. First let me begin with a confession. The temptations described above are not foreign to me. That is a big reason why I disabled the comment option for the blog articles on this website, to establish a healthy boundary for me along with wanting to spare you of the same struggle. I talk about this a little in my intro to this website. As an alternative, I encouraged visitors who wanted to further discuss something I brought up in an article or podcast to a) have a personal conversation with me (if we know each other), b) talk with someone else you they personally or c) even consider talking to a complete stranger! I am convinced than any of those options will turn out far superior to web-based verbosity. While I will recognize that I have on occasion participated in a thread (on a Facebook post usually) that was positive and constructive, my impression is that there were far more that were not helpful and even toxic. Studies have shown that social media seems to be especially effective at spreading anger. I personally regret, for both myself and for those to whom I was replying, the countless hours and emotional energy wasted in these online rage-fests. I catch myself sometimes in the middle of this downward spiral of transformation from the guy people know me to be into this bitter Facebook troll. So let's just recognize that social media and the internet can be a helpful medium for quickly communicating information (the quality of that information is a subject for another time). But when it comes to processing that information and even more importantly actually doing something about it, there is nothing that beats "old-fashioned" in-person interaction.