My Opinion by Jack Crombie
Along with another 1.4 billion other people I count myself as a fan of the virtual social network phenomena that defines the times in which we live. Using Facebook I have reconnected with old friends and acquaintances half a world away whom I had not even thought about in over 30 years. Relatives who I might have formerly contacted only once a year with a Christmas card, I now converse with weekly. It is truly a wonderful communication tool, but one that does have its dark side—what we might call the anti-social network!
It is interesting that as we become more comfortable in the cyber society of Facebook, we develop a feeling of confidence and impunity in our communications which is bestowed even to the most meek and timorous amongst us. Normal polite rules of conduct seem to be suspended for people who in the real world are nice, pleasant and friendly. They are different when they are online, feeling that it is fine and dandy to lambaste, castigate and verbally flay people with whom they disagree, do not like, or otherwise find objectionable.
In my daily life in my community, I might stop by at the local jewelers in Zion to have the battery changed in my watch. While there, it would be unusual if I did not chat with Carrol or some other member of her family about our families and our differing views on local politics. I might then nip across the road and visit Debbie for some bird seed at IUP’s and of course spend time discussing our families, politics and differing religious viewpoints. Then it’s back across the road to pick up some summer repair and maintenance items at Leaders Ace hardware where an animated discussion on anything from whiskey to presidential politics with our helpful hardware man is mandatory.
Whether it is at a local business or with a friend over coffee, we might argue how best to save the whale, rescue Greece or topically, whether to allow dogs on the North Point Marina beach in Winthrop Harbor. Despite our differing views, the conversations are nearly always friendly because they are conducted in a mannerly, polite and respectful fashion.
Why is it then that bad manners are relatively common in the virtual community and relatively uncommon in our daily, personal interactions?
Manners are the protocols we utilize to harmoniously interact socially; but in our virtual societies on the internet, manners often seem to be absent: there is a dislocation in our communications which has the tendency of diminishing empathy and apparently removing good manners. In our online communication, the arbitrator or the judge as to the efficacy of what we are saying, is not the instant feedback from another, but the feedback from our inner selves, which unsurprisingly might not find fault with our own words of wisdom.
When we do not offend our inner self, and when there is no one giving us feedback in real time suggesting that we might be being offensive, then we just do not perceive ourselves as having been bad mannered.
When we sit before a computer screen, our focus is inwards and selfish, and concern over the actual effect of our words is muted and diminished. Our normal human desire to be liked, and to fit into a group, to be polite, has been temporarily marginalized. This diminishment of concern, to what will and what will not, allow us to interact smoothly and amicably with those we are interacting with, has the effect of turning us all into self-righteous bad mannered brats.
The solution? As the old saying goes, “God give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us!”
Empathy is an important human trait that allows us to live together and negotiate solutions for difficult problems. The computer screen, however, has no empathy. If, when we join an online conversation we consciously compensate for the missing empathetic interaction, then good manners might be the outcome. With good manners, then online anti-social networking just might become, online social networking.
And that is my opinion.