I was listening to the radio this morning. It was a story about using virtual technology to enhance learning and business – better than Skype or GotoMeeting – this would actually make it feel like you are there. I agree that this would save time and money and probably reduce the environmental impact of travelling to business meetings. And it is probably better than the conference call. Still, I feel like we keep finding ways to avoid being face to face, in close proximity, with other human beings. I sometimes feel that the cumulative effect of this is that we may be losing touch with our shared humanity.
Technology has changed our communication patterns in a meaningful way. The phone meant that we didn’t have to go to see someone to have a conversation and we didn’t have to wait for a letter – and we could hear their voice from far away – hear the pain, the joy, the worry, the love. Email made it so much faster to share lots of information – personal or business – in written form, with none of that messy – and possibly revealing – handwriting getting in the way. We didn’t need to sit together and resolves something; we email and track changes until we reach agreement. Text messaging meant that we could get a quick message to someone without waiting for the voice mail to kick in or for the recipient to check their email. I once heard a comedian compare texting to calling someone, saying what you want to say, and hanging up. Then they call back and do the same thing. There was no space for nuance or emotion – until we got emojis of course. And Twitter means that we can get a quick message out to everyone without regard for who is on the other end of that message. Other social media platforms offer similar access to the greater world – share it and it can go anywhere, to anyone, whoever they are.
But who are “they”? I don’t know that people really care that much anymore. The twittersphere or interwebs or whatever clever name we use for it is actually made up of people. Other human beings. Lots of them. And yet, we don’t seem to think of them that way. That shared sense of humanity seems lost. Race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, culture, size, shape, age – we focus on the differences. It seems that on social media there is always someone with less privilege than us who we can look down upon. As a society, we don’t hold each other accountable for behaviors that marginalize, oppress and hurt other people. There are countless ways in which media, families, and systems reinforce the things that make us different rather than celebrating the humanity we share.
At REACH, we use social media to connect family, friends and neighbors to learn about domestic violence, create safer communities and stand up for change. We use social media to connect with youth and share strategies for healthy relationship development, helping a friend, and speaking up. Remember, there are people on the end of that tweet, post or rant – words have power. It’s supposed to be social media, not antisocial media. As my mother used to say, if you can’t say it to her face, maybe you shouldn’t say it at all. I guess mom was right. Again.