BY: JAMES DI FIORE
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The Internet was originally intended to connect the world. People from different walks of life coming together to communicate with each other, learn from each other, share ideas and evolve. The world was going to be a very different place, they said.
They were right; the world is very different, far different from anything most of us ever imagined. And a part of me wants to go back to a time when were all still disconnected.
It is worth asking the question: have we always been such miserable, cynical creatures?
Case in point; Rob Ford recently passed away. He was the world’s most famous punch line. He was a drug addict. He was an alcoholic. He was immature. He was not very smart. He could be described as a bully, but he didn’t have that mean streak one normally associates with bullies. Ford seemed to suffer from something else, an arrested development of sorts, making him prone to smiling all the time, bumbling around and speaking off the cuff.
But then he was diagnosed with a rare cancer. For over a year he underwent chemotherapy and radiation, but it was to no avail. He passed away, leaving his wife and two young children to pick up the pieces.
Then, the Internet weighed in, and I once again remembered why it is not the miracle invention it was promised to be. Mercilessly, countless people, mostly self-proclaimed progressives, giddily celebrated Ford’s passing, as if he was a villain in a soap opera, artificial, sub-human. I tried reasoning with a few of them, telling them that while he was certainly a horrible mayor and a man with countless vices and self inflicted problems, that he was still a human being who had not murdered anyone, molested children or stole a pension fund from seniors. I figured his punishment for all his foibles was already administered, that he had paid the ultimate price, and perhaps now would be a good time to just leave him be.
Our society is becoming dangerously sociopathic, enabled by the unlettered method of communicating almost exclusively through social media. We’ve lost something; the ability to compartmentalize our need to admonish people with the notion that we should have some respect for the recently departed. It’s a strange thing to witness if you aren’t looking for it. Most of us probably scroll through our newsfeeds and only half glance at headlines and comments. But those of us who do contribute to the zeitgeist, we need to either get our act together or just call it a day. We are all becoming extremists, forgetting that the words we type are most likely not the same words we would speak if we actually communicated in person.
Or, better yet, what would we say to Rob Ford’s children if they asked us about their dad. Are we a society that condones cynical, brutal honesty 24/7? Is that what passes for a civilized society now?
People used to say things like “You can’t feed the trolls” or “Yeah, there’s a lot of assholes out there, just ignore them” and other quick tidbits of advice to help make your online experience more enjoyable. Well, I hate to break it to you, but we are all trolls now. Everyone is posting childish memes, bullshit quotes, statuses that spotlight our kindness but carefully worded to come off as humility, and this schizophrenic way of promoting political correctness as we kick a coffin carrying a corpse that isn’t even cold yet.
We are all extremists.
The Syrian refugee crisis was the same. You either ranted about the evils of Islam, or you ranted about the west not caring about brown people. If you tried to reason with either side, you were pelted with slogans, taglines and hoaxes that propped up their side of the argument. With all that information at our fingertips we still can’t find any credible sources, especially since we seem to only choose memes that appear to be created in the basements of unemployed lunatics.
I don’t want the Internet to be solely a place to watch Youtube videos of kittens, or to check out sports highlights. I want the robust debates, the exchanging of ideas and the civility that is supposed to come with living in a civilized, free society.
Because, hypocritically, if social media died tomorrow, I’d be the first to kick its coffin on its way out.