When I first started out in the online world some 25 years ago, it was with dial up bulletin board systems. By today’s standards they were archaic – 2 or 3 dial up lines, 50 to 100 regular users, maybe some simple online games, file downloads, chat boards and news feeds, all wrapped up in an artistically challenged ASCII interface.
Smarter people than I saw them as the vanguard of something much bigger, what would become the ever evolving Internet. They could see the disruption across commercial, social, political and illegal spectrums. I on the other side saw them as a great way to improve on who I was – learn new things and ideas, become less prejudiced, refine and improve on my knowledge and opinions. It was a hermit’s version of travelling the world without having to leave your house.
The harbinger of my online writing – my blogging here, were long debates written on BBS forums. I shudder to think at the number of words I’ve written down over the years. New and age old topics, current events and history, anything and everything you could think of and more you couldn’t have. I would just as often play devil’s advocate on a topic – not to be argumentative, but to challenge my own views and writing skills.
I remember one particular person I spared with often over many topics. In hindsight he would have had Oppositional Defiant Disorder and / or have been on the Autism Spectrum. He was clearly unhinged. You could however – with appropriate dexterity, reason with him. In fact – you could reason with just about every person you debated with. It was ok to agree to disagree, you would still come away with a better understanding of the opposite view, it was ok to change your mind or adjust your view in part, or have your view cemented even stronger.
I became a better person for those years.
On Facebook I have a very diverse array of connections. Family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, smart and not so smart, wealthy and poor, young and old, wise and foolish, politically far left and far right, from yoga masters, teachers, company directors, spinsters, bachelors, married and polyamorous, religious and atheist, gay, straight, various different skin colours and so on. My news feed should be a melting pot of different opinions and ideas and experiences which I should be able to learn and grow from. Except it is not.
Almost everyone surrounds themselves with people having similar views and go to town on supporting and reinforcing each other, while hating on anyone who disagrees. In fact, over the years they are getting more and more hostile at people who are not just changing their minds to agree with them. There is no focus on becoming a better or more knowledgeable person, instead it is sprint to becoming more insular.
Every couple of weeks, maybe nostalgic for the good old days, I will pick one out of the hundreds of blatantly toxic memes I see, and call the poster out on it. I’ll check the facts, or ask if they really think the message is right or appropriate. They will either attack me for questioning their opinion, or admit it isn’t important that it is factually wrong, because in the greater scheme it supports their view, which is correct.
I called out one particular meme on the weekend as blatantly rewriting a historical event to support a view – and asked why lie when there are more current and appropriate examples which would have done a much better job. One of the posters friends took umbrage to my opinion, and said because I was a White Male Christian I lived a life of privilege, so my opinion would be disregarded. I pointed out that I was not a Christian, and what did that colour of my skin and sex have to do with the validity of accepting demonstrable lies. Her response was that she was entitled to her opinion. (Where as I was not.)
In context she was sexist, a racist complaining about racism, an anti-Christian complaining about Islamophobia. She was completely oblivious to the fact and irony that she was a closed minded bigot – exactly what she thought she was championing against. She had a number of people click like on her comments, supporting her.
This is now the norm. I rarely seem valuable debate any more online. You have people demanding tolerance with intolerance, education with ignorance, peace with hostility. Something seems seriously wrong with the society around me.
Over the last year there has been a real hostility across the EVE related media I follow – large echo chambers, vile attacks on others, a failure to listen to or consider other people’s views. It has died down a bit of late, but that seems more a result of less people bothering to offer up a dissenting opinion than any healing or resolution. I went to remark on it multiple times, but never finished a post.
I don’t really think it is an EVE problem. The western, democratic, capitalist society I am familiar with seems really unhappy within itself at the moment.