Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Nerds' Revenge

Going by statistics, you've probably broken every one of your new year's resolutions already. But you can start over, and if you keep just one, I would suggest this: labor to treat your Facebook friends as if they were standing right in front of you, face to face. I had to take that step two years ago, abstaining from most political posts (and nearly all political blogging) after a thunderous comment row with a friend.

Part of me believes so-called social media is the biggest, most successful act of revenge by those nerds people teased mercilessly as children. Now, they not only own half the world, they also own our lives through their creations of Facebook and Twitter. They have pulled the ultimate con on us, thinking they're making us more connected. We can't see it, but we're unraveling thread by thread.

I know many of my Facebook friends in real life. Many are admirers I've friended even though I really don't know them. I've friended other people I admire. On an altruistic level, it should mean, "I'm interested in your life. I want to know more about you. I want to share in what you enjoy, and perhaps support you in the tough times."

Put that status update in front of some people, and it's a weapon. When politics and faith gets into the mix, otherwise beautiful people turn ugly. I know folks who know better than to rant out loud like they do on their pages, and yet their news feeds scream with namecalling, flaming and trolling.

Now-former Arizona Public Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal got caught "sock-puppeting:" posting under pseudonyms with whoppers like this one:
"Obama is rewarding the lazy pigs with food stamps (44 million people), air-conditioning, free health care, flat-screen TV's (typical of "poor" families)."
And this one...
"No Spanish radio stations, no Spanish billboards, no Spanish TV stations, no Spanish newspapers. This is America, speak English."

Once exposed, he wept in front of the cameras but refused to resign. Voters booted him anyway. I watched his press conference and chalked up his remorse to a man who didn't believe he could get caught. Words come with meaning, whether you type them or speak them. People like Huppenthal think it's okay to play dirty on the Internet because it's already such a free-wheeling din of free speech. Something in their mindset believes an equally poisonous rant exists out there in cyberspace and they are merely providing balance. We forget rights come with responsibilities.

So we feel free to post, share and comment bile. It's okay if you type it. Retweets can't scream at you, and you can unfriend, ignore and block as need be. Technology is great, allowing us to click people off like they're on the other end of the remote. And then we have to deal with the real people behind those icons in the news feed.

In what became a cruelly ironic teaching moment, I shared one of Washington's Rules of Civility, along with a beautiful painting of our beloved first president. It read: "Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for 'tis a sign of a tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern." The comments section blew up. Fifteen years ago, I might have enjoyed watching a catfight. It's heartbreaking watching people you know in real life with their talons out.

I think of that line in The Godfather: Part II: "Hyman Roth played this one beautifully."

And so did all those nerds who came up with a way for us to destroy ourselves from within.

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