I was looking around Facebook this morning and was astounded by the words of people. This is not new of course, but I feel a sort of terminal velocity occurring in my consciousness. I’m wearing thin. No thread is safe from unhinged speech. Could these really be functioning adults? Too many of my generation have made the mistake of thinking that communicating online is just like communicating in person, with context, sympathy, empathy, etc. With personal capital from personal relationships front and center with relevance. Some of us have learned the hard way that it isn’t. Those of us in that category just withdraw and leave our social media window cracked open slightly “Looking Out, Looking In,” as Wyeth beautifully painted. Others… well they double down and grow, metastasizing with shock and ugliness, keeping up with the “pile on” culture of the social media bully mob. I am painfully aware that the pseudo anonymity of social media allows for a certain level of Oz like pathology and that even pointing out this behavior will have you gaslit into the fields of poppy. There’s no way I’m talking about you right? Right? It’s a stark awareness that has caused me to rethink many things.
A Social Media Thread In Three Dimensions
This may be a stretch, so please bear with me. I was watching the news recently and on air was a segment about the violence in Portland, Oregon proudly on display by Portland’s arm of the activist group “antifa.” The date of occurrence was December 7th, 2018. As I was watching the complete chaos, which was a violent, reprehensible, and tantrum-like production, I had this exact thought… and I was sober – “Shit, this looks like a Facebook thread.” In other words, if I put on a theatrical production of a social media thread, it would look and sound just like this. I tend to think about things deeper than I would like at times, and this became no exception. The hair on my neck stood tall and I immediately thought of the civil rights hero Heather Heyer who was murdered in the coldest of blood in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12th, 2017 during a counter-protest of a Unite the Right rally. The assailant, a professed neo-nazi, white supremacist, drove his vehicle into a crowd of people injuring 28 and killing 1, seemingly indiscriminate. He is a white male. Heyer a white female with fiery red hair. If you are a reasonable person of reasonable intelligence and common sense, nothing about this story adds up. People were shouting and pushing and shoving. They were yelling this and that. Totally unhinged and out of control, completely governed in the moment by uninformed emotional content. Meanwhile, all the people who were there for reasonable and constitutionally protected reasons just got swallowed up and hurt physically and emotionally. Truly a soul crushing moment in American history and most assuredly there is more to come. The incident was captured in a photograph taken by Ryan Kelly on his last day on the job. In 2018 he won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography. Looking at the photo I can’t help but notice all the signs among the flying bodies. Sadly it’s the stop signs that were ignored. What is my point? Sitting there on the couch that day with my eyes welling up, I realized that on August 12th, 2017 a schism occurred peppered with sociopathy. The online world was now informing the offline world and it’s first victim was Heather Heyer.
My Personal Milieu
This profound moment on my couch has left me with mixed emotions. I feel sad of course in a nondescript way. I profoundly get that I am not supposed to clearly understand the world of my middle aged miasma. Unlike the Baby Boomers, Generation X has handed things off to their children, and we’re proud of that, mistakes and all. I think that younger generations are kind of awesome. Every problem they solve allows us to see the problems we created. That’s cool. I hate the term snowflake and millennials mesmerize me. I am politically center right and center left. You can’t legislate morality, religion is personal, and the collective consciousness is real. I believe that the loudest are being heard. We are in a time where shouting is activism and shocking words make someone right. I am not discouraged though because the reasonable people are walking away backwards, slowly. Ready to regroup. The vulnerable in our culture are counting on us. We can’t rely on our government to fix this. Our government rewards and protects those that consume and leaves children and the elderly on the curb to be picked up by someone else. They don’t solve problems. So where do we turn? Where will you turn?
For Comfort I Turned To Monica Lewinsky
I was looking for some academic literature prior to writing this and in a bizarre act of serendipity I was led to a TED talk by Monica Lewinsky given in 2015. “Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,” says Lewinsky. “In 1998 I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” This was during the dawn of the internet and email but prior to social media. She continues, “This rush to judgement, enabled by technology, led to mobs of virtual stone-throwers.” I was living in Washington D.C. at that time and looking back it was quite the time to be living there. I was serving in the military and served during Bill Clinton’s entire two terms. I met him multiple times, Hillary too. I guess that’s why I almost laugh at what passes for presidential politics now. We have a president, who love him or hate him, is an incessant online bully and provocateur. Lewinsky and I are the same age and I found her dire warning to be timely and refreshing. Her TED talk is impressive. The dumpster fire that is social media has awakened something that has either been dormant or has just recently been born, a collectively unconscious, covertly narcissistic, abusive, hostile, uniformed, nonsensical, judgmental, and cowardly archetype I call a threadator, and its Serengeti is social media. I listened to Lewinsky’s talk and I was very proud. In her talk she addresses the caustic, hostile, and verbally violent nature of social media. At 22, if her drama played out today, she would not see 23. She would be driven to suicide at light speed. She is lucky to be alive. I guess the message is this – Words are powerful, and as actual human interactions become diminished, they become even more powerful, delivered without context and with crushing blows. I hope something you type doesn’t become the very last thing someone reads. If it does, that’s on you.