My daughter and I were watching “Harvey” last night. A movie made in the 1950’s. A scene in the first act was at a Tea in which Veta Simmons invites numerous ladies of high society to hear a lady sing.
My daughter turned to me and said (as only a 15-year-old can) “That would be SO boring!” I reminded her how, prior to Television, people were entertained differently. Speeches were events. Variety shows were the highlight of the year. How people could not just turn on a box and watch something 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Whether we like it or not, how we relate has changed. Prior to telephones, the only relating we could do is face to face, or by letter. The idea of relating to another person in another continent would be a commitment. Not an afterthought.
Life progressed with telephones, automobiles and airplanes. We sat on porches in the evening to talk to our neighbors. We were on bowling leagues. We were in 4-H.
Life progressed more and faster. Front porches gave way to back yard decks. Rather than attend a church because it was within walking distance, we attended a church we liked within driving distance. And if we became disenchanted with that church, we found another within driving distance.
We began to pick schools, not because of where we lived, but the quality of the academics or the programs offered. Our friends live 10 or 20 or 30 miles away. We no longer knew our next-door neighbors first names, let alone how their children were doing.
But even with that, we have a limited resource by which to develop our relationships. Our pool was church, school, work or locale. Each of us have been faced with a situation in which we have had to make a decision whether to continue a friendship within this set of people, either because of offending the other, or being offended, or some other moral reason.
Along came the internet. Our “pool” has now developed into a world-wide relationship base. If I want to find a white male, unmarried, who has converted from Mormonism to Islam, a google search and some effort, and the next thing you know, I am talking to not one, but five or six. What would be the chance I could find such an individual within the old social circle of church, school, etc.? Not very great.
And with this new gang of people talking, chatting, blogging, foruming and e-mailing, I wonder how our old ethics system will fair. It is not designed for this much interaction.
Take the adage: “Love your neighbor.” In my average day, there are only so many people I can encounter and utilize that principle. I can only offend so many! Maybe a few drivers on the way to work, I let cut in front of me. Or a tip and a smile to the harried coffee clerk. A help to some co-workers. An extra effort for some clients. Then back home (letting in a few more drivers) to help my wife and children.
Here, on the ‘net, I can encounter millions. Now, I seriously doubt that millions of people are reading my blog. Frankly, without a counter, it may only be a faithful dozen. BUT, the potential is there that any person of millions, could inadvertently wander in and be offended. What is my responsibility under “Love my neighbor”?
Can I start a blog called, “ChristianityCanSuckMyBigToe” and seriously be considered as “loving my neighbor”? Yet we have a site called “AtheismSucks.” Is that “Loving your neighbor”? Would Jesus be a contributor at “AtheismSucks”? (WWJB?) I wonder how a Christian can effectively write on-line, yet constantly maintain a “love your neighbor” attitude. Somebody, somewhere is certain to be offended. Can we just write that person off?
In real life, we have a limiting factor by time and locale. Here, on the ‘net, I can probably find a way to offend somebody at any time of the day. What do I do about that responsibility? Sadly, I see most simply shrug. “Hey, you can’t please everybody.” No, you can’t. So what ethic do you develop by which enough “somebodys” are bothered that you change?
Imagine I write a blog entry. And one Christian writes in “Hey, this was offensive to me.” My personal moral is to treat others as they would like to be treated. This person does not want to read what I have written. Do I delete it? Do I explain myself, in the hopes of convincing them otherwise?
Another Christian writes in that this was offensive. And another. Eventually 100 Christians write in, all claiming it was offensive. And not a single Christian said it was fine. I would think we all agree that I have violated my personal moral. I did not treat others as they would like to be treated. But what if 1 out of the 100 said it was O.K.? Or two? Or it was divided 50/50?
How many Christians does it take for me to violate my own ethic?
Of course, the most dramatic shift is the ability to be anonymous. In real life, I am immediately aware of when I have offended another driver. That middle finger she is waiving at me communicates effectively. When we offend or hurt another in life, it is very often face-to-face. We see the person. Or we will see them next Sunday.
That personal interaction tempers our speech and tone. We have all read internet battles. Have you ever read one as if the two (or more) participants were speaking face to face? If you saw that on the street, you would be certain that a physical fight was imminent! But when “DagoodS” is writing to “PapaBear 352”* I can call them an “ignorant buffoon who couldn’t outsmart a rock, and should do their personal effort to help increase the average I.Q. of their country by moving somewhere else. Like an unpopulated island.”
We think nothing of such statements on-line, yet in real life we would be aghast at the affront of someone saying such things. (Add the capital letters and we could REALLY see a fight!)
I don’t know PapaBear 352. I literally do not know what hemisphere of the world they live in, their sex, age, marital status, or anything. And that “not knowing” coupled with them not knowing mine, gives me license to write what I want, when I want and how I want?
Is what is transpiring on-line going to cross over to real life, or are we developing a completely different moral system here? I see us as an evil Superman, with a secret Identity.
Clark: Morning Lois! Boy, this is great coffee! Anything I can help you with?
Lois: No, Clark. Thanks.
Clark: Great! I’ll just check my e-mail.
*Logs in to ‘EvilSuper’*
*Reads e-mail from ‘JimPhoto’*
EvilSuper: What?! [typing] You senseless TWIT! It is PEOPLE like YOU that give newspapers a BAD NAME! How you EVER got a job is beyond me! You can’t even spell ‘hawsehole’ correctly! Its one word—moron! Come back when you have a third-grade education. DUMBASS.
Clark: Hey Lois, can you call Jimmie? He’s such a nice kid; I want to take him to lunch.
Lois: Not right now, he got an e-mail from some guy called ‘EvilSuper’ and is typing out a response…
Is the internet making us worse, the same, or just different by being able to communicate anonymously? Is it the real us, or a different side of us?
In addition, thanks to the commonality of the set we associate with, there is bound to be someone that agrees with our statements. Who can stroke our ego and support us. “Naw, you were fine. That silly thin-skinned Christian was too sensitive when you called posted a picture of a naked Jesus in Chocolate. Not your fault.” We can offend others AND receive encouragement at the same time!
Where can we do that in real life?
And the neat part is that it is so immediate. In life, when we offend others, or are offended, we pause and reflect. Sometimes we will not even see the person for a period of time before we can respond. That gives us a moment to stop and consider what to say, and how to say it.
Here, we have hardly finished reading before we have clicked “Reply” and start banging out a venomous response. Our brain does not have time to kick in and say, “You know, maybe you should re-think this…”
Another interesting dynamic that has recently come across my radar—how do we communicate that what we find is unacceptable to us. To use another example—what if I am on a forum. And another poster makes a comment about me, or another, or in general that I find completely distasteful. I respond, to no avail. I PM, to receive either hate-mail or no response. I complain to moderators who are uninterested.
What do I do? What does my ethic require of me? Do I shrug it off and continue? Do I walk with my feet? Do I demand an apology over and over and over? We don’t have a great many options.
Do any of us like those blogs were all of a sudden a seemingly rationale person begins to type about how “CrazyEight”* over at “bobo.blogspot”* wrote something mean about them, and now the blogger is going to show THEM by telling the world about what has transpired, and how they were hurt, and let’s see the whole history…
Yes, I know it may be cathartic for that blogger at that moment…but after having read the first dozen—are they that interesting? Isn’t just another internet battle with different names and different issues, but the same words?
Recently I have been struck by the difference between internet ethics and life. Sorry—no answers in this blog entry. I almost feel as if this is too big of a creature to wrap my arms around.
*completely made up moniker(s). If there IS someone who happens to have this as an internet name, I most certainly did NOT mean you!