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Social Detachment

There is an old phrase uttered by parents pretty universally to their children at some point.  It goes something like “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” As a parent, I have even found myself uttering this statement a couple of times at least.  Its simplicity still applies in even in this modern age.

I am a very active person in social media circles.  I have embraced this as part of communicating with the ever-expanding world I live in.  It is great to keep in touch with, or re-establish contact with friends and family you may have lost touch with over time.  I am also noticing a very disturbing trend though.

I am noticing that people are making comments that would never be acceptable in normal conversations, at the very least generating a strange look or two.  Social media in the 21st century has taken that buffer out of the equation.  Rather than worry about what someone might think, it has become common place to make comments like “I wish _____ would die” (where ____ is any person famous or otherwise).  There is a real disconnect with what is being said, and how it will be interpreted out there.

What I mean by this is that people throw these things out on to the net without context.  In a face-to-face conversation you have context.  You understand the reasoning, and the intent behind the statement.  In a text, or a post you do not get that same context.  Your own mind has to fill in the blanks based on your own personal experiences and interpretations, and that is where the problems can begin.

Gaining insight into the reasoning behind such a statement is very difficult when you are reading the words.  As someone pointed out to me in the corporate world some time ago, words on a page (or an email, or a text, or a Facebook post) don’t have any emotion.  We add those details to the things we read.  It is human nature to fill in those blanks.  Many misunderstandings have been created for this very reason.

Misunderstandings aside, I also think that this form of communication offers some anonymity from others and makes people bolder in what they say to the world.  Because there is that shield in place where others cannot directly engage the person, social inhibitions seem to often get turned off from time to time.  Now this isn’t to say this is an utterly bad thing to say the least.  After all, I am making an editorial statement here that would not be possible if blogging (another social media communication tool) had not been invented.  However, it is a bit alarming to find how often statements that resemble death threats, or other harmful things are said in the cyber “public” forums.

So what’s your take on the issue?

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About Mike Lemons
I'm a guy in his 40's who has been bumming around the net for years. I am married to a wonderful woman, and have 3 gorgeous kids.

4 Responses to Social Detachment

  1. Patti says:

    Complicating the issue of the ability to make emotionless, anonymous statements is that someone can say something hurtful/inflammatory/crazy – even if they don’t really mean it and are just venting – and then they can go away after they feel better, never come back – and yet their words are still out there and potentially findable for a long time afterward. It adds a whole new dimension to the idea that once you say something you can’t take it back.

    On the other hand, I sometimes find the straightforward no emotion context of email to be helpful when discussing highly-charged topics with, say, my husband. It can help things come out a little more clearly.

    • Mike Lemons says:

      Well said Patti, and I concur with your statements completely. I like the fact that you mentioned the use of email when discussing some subjects with your husband…my wife and I do that as well for the same reason.

  2. Becky says:

    I sometimes wait until I’m at work to address something with my husband via Google Chat because that way both of us can think through our comments before putting them out there. The down side is, like you pointed out, the emotion must be inserted by the reader, not the writer, which can cause confusion, miscommunication, and sometimes bigger issues than you originally started with!

    I agree with a lot of what you said, especially that people tend to be “bolder” when offering their opinions on the internet; they think there aren’t repercussions and they seem to forget that people still have feelings, even if they’re reading words on a screen instead of hearing them with their ears. The ability to be anonymous means folks hesitate less when accusing, blaming, insulting or otherwise offending. I’ve experienced this on one of my blogs; I posted a photo of our “mall” (you’d have to see it to understand) and mentioned a joke some friends and I had about a Chinese restaurant there. Someone under the protection of internet anonymity accused me of slander. In another instance, someone I know personally (but don’t know who) anonymously commented on another blog of mine, basically calling me proud and acting “holier than thou.” I get very angry when people leave their thoughts but don’t have the guts enough to identify themselves. It’s hard to take their accusations seriously when they themselves apparently have something to hide.

    Okay, I think I’m done with my soapbox now…want it back?

    • Mike Lemons says:

      Not at all Becky…and I have had similar things happen as well. Guess we bloggers develop thicker skins than others on these things over time.

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