Is technology making us mean?

Technology has been the source of many amazing things. I can now fly to America in a day and eat bad airline food instead of sitting on a boat for months, eating bad boat food and getting scurvy. Technology allows me to connect with like minded people I would otherwise have never met, and share the joys of random, obscure things. And because of the wonders of modern technology I can send messages across the planet in an instant. It also allows me to be a complete and utter asshole to absolute strangers.

In days gone by, it would have been highly unlikely I would have walked up to a stranger, famous or otherwise, and abused them. I wouldn’t have done it for a number of reasons. Manners. Fear. Common decency. But like a lot of the commons, (common sense is in there also), it seems these character traits have gone the same way as fax machines and vinyl records. Technology seems to have made them somewhat redundant.

Back then, I would most likely have avoided someone I didn’t like and not spoken to them at all. It was good formula. And mum was right when she said “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Sadly, now, that seems to be more a case of “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, not only say it, but shout it as loud as you possibly can, regardless of the consequences, and share it with the world.”

These days, it’s not at all unusual to unleash a tirade on anyone and everyone, for pretty much any reason at all, or none at all, on the internet. We’ve got technology to thank for that. Kim Kardashian? Watch out, there are any number of people out there who want to tell you what they really think of you. Taylor Swift? Complete and utter strangers have got some very unkind words headed in your direction too. In fact, you don’t have to look much further than ‘Celebrities Read Mean Tweets’ to see what a phenomena this is. And celebrities are just the tip of the unkind iceberg.

What I used to say to celebrities I didn’t like.

When I was younger I used to camp outside hotels to meet my favorite pop stars. It wasn’t a super common past time, I guess most people had better things to do. But for those of us who were big enough fans, we’d wait outside the hotel we assumed they were staying at – (it’s one advantage of coming from a small city where there was really only ever one or two hotels worthy of celebrity visits) – and you know what we’d do when they came along? We’d asked for autographs. And if we were really well off, snap a few photos on our pocket brownies. That’s it. But then, they were the celebrities we liked.

So what about the ones we didn’t like? Nothing. We didn’t wait for them so we could tell them how much we hated their last album. We didn’t write them letters saying how much we hated them personally. We didn’t do any of that. Because we weren’t mean. We weren’t assholes. If we were talking amongst friends, I suppose we’d say who we did and didn’t like and why, but we didn’t broadcast those feelings to the world. Or to that person directly. And you know why? Because we weren’t as mean and unkind as we are now.

Enter technology. And the golden age of unkindness.

Now, I know what you’re going to say, if those people put themselves out there, put themselves in the public eye, they deserve everything they get. Ah, why is that exactly? Surely it’s just as reasonable to suggest we should be kind to people? Whether they’re in movies, on TV, making music, designing fashion or the kid sitting at the desk in class next to you, why do we now feel so compelled to say mean things?

Technology has certainly made it easier, but then, technology has made it easier to have a coffee enema, and we’re not all rushing out to do that. Being an asshole isn’t mandatory.

Some will even justify it by saying they are entitled to their opinion. And, of course, they are. They are also entitled to keep it to themselves. Or stuff it in their ass. There is no obligation to share an opinion when all it does create negativity and misery.

A while back I was quite unkind to someone. Because let’s be honest here, just because I’m writing about this subject now like I’m the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa doe not mean I am immune to this condition. So I was quite unkind to someone, and even though it could be argued it was not altogether undeserved, it caused a lot of trouble. And a lot of heartache. Not only for that person, but also myself. And after much reflection, I came up with the following thought: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Now, to be fair, this is not likely to go down alongside “I have a dream” as one of the great and profound philosophical sayings of all time. But maybe it should. Let me say it again: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Let that sink in. Technology allows us to do many things that we were previously unable to do – but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Don’t be a dick pic.

We can send dick pics now without having to duck down to the local photo processing store, lodge a film, have the poor people who work there see the pictures come out of the developing machine, pop them in an envelope, and post them off to someone. Possibly even a stranger. So it’s much easier to do that now. Whack out the smart phone, whack out your bits, snap, send and voila! Instant asshole. But hey, just because we can send dick pics now, doesn’t mean we should.

You know all those barriers to doing it before? The fact you would likely not do it because it would mean other people would know what you are doing and you would likely feel embarrassed or uncomfortable? To the extent where you probably wouldn’t do it? Those things are clues. Clues that sending dick pics is not a decent thing to do. Even though you can.

And before you ask what the heck dick pics have to do with you when all you’re doing is giving your ‘opinion’ on Facebook, well, if you’re being unkind, it’s the literary equivalent of a dick pic. Except you’re the dick. No one asked for it. It’s not necessarily decent. And just as in days gone by when you would have had a few real world prompts that it was inappropriate, we should probably still recognise being an asshole is as out of fashion as it’s ever been.

I’m also not pitching mass compliance. It’s still OK to have different values. It’s still OK to be outraged by injustice. It’s also still OK to have manners and be polite and be decent and be kind. And it’s still not OK to not be all of those things.

Just because you don’t see the results of your actions doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We can’t see gravity, but we’re all pretty happy to accept that exists. (I’m sitting with my ass firmly planted in my seat courtesy of it right now.) Same goes with how people would react to your actions. Your words. You can’t see it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

What do your words say about you?

Next time you go to tweet or comment or whatever the next big thing is, I’d ask you to consider this simple notion: if the person you’re communicating with, or about, was your brother or sister or mother or father or son or daughter or any other loved one, how would you word your feedback? Would you be decent and kind? It’s highly likely that person, who is most likely, although I suppose these days not necessarily, a human being, is someone’s loved one. How do you think they feel? How do you think their loved ones feel? What do your unkind comments really communicate? Do they say something about what kind of person they are, or what kind of person you are?

And this: What are you actually hoping to achieve by saying mean things? Seriously. What? Are you challenging some monumental injustice? Are you affecting positive change in the world? Or are you just intentionally causing another human being heartache? And in the process showing the world you are mean. Unkind. An asshole.

I started by proposing that technology is making us mean. But you know what, let’s not shoot the messenger. Or in this case, Messenger. Or Twitter. Or Whatever. Technology isn’t the problem. Social Media isn’t the problem. The culture of celebrity isn’t the problem. It’s us. You and me. The ones who have set decency aside to take up the opportunity to broadcast our mean-ness. Yes, technology allows us to do that, but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.