Advice From Your [Not Always Online] Aunt Julie

by September 6, 2013
filed under Life



I’ve been watching the internet lately and I’m concerned. As a woman who loves working in social justice and gets up to making change in the world (I do my best to examine and dismantle isms when and wherever I find them), I’m not always convinced the internet is the best place to do it.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about takedown culture online. Takedown is a way of life, a sport, which to some extent I’ve participated in. I mean, who hasn’t? If you are on the internet, on social media like Twitter, Vine, Storify, Facebook or well…comment sections of websites you like to read, you’ll see and possibly participate in arguments and flamewars over all kinds of important things from politics to whether or not Blurred Lines is a good song or not.

I, myself, was raised without the internet – kind of like being raised by wolves – but the most people did when they read an article or saw a program they didn’t like was type (on a typewriter) or write (with a pen) a letter to the editor. Sometimes it even got published. There was no immediate back and forth and tweeting and retweeting and sharing on Tumblr and good lord, but that might have been a better way to do things.

Except, maybe not. As a Generation Xer, I’m smack dab in the middle of writing letters to the editors with pens and starting a campaign online to smackdown trolls and call attention to injustice now. Also, you can meet so many people online, reach all kinds of venues and make some of the best friends in the world that you’ll never really meet. I can do both, and have, but I wonder how much dialogue is getting accomplished by not actually talking to each other, just tweeting. You know, in person. Seeing a face in front of you. Hearing a voice. Feeling their humanity. At least when it comes to dealing with the big issues.

I’ll admit it: I’m sort of an over empathizer. When I see people getting argued with/called out/flamed even if it’s for bad behavior, I can’t help but feel a certain tug of, “Hey, that’s not right.” We can and should call out the racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, sizeism, ageism and more, and I certainly have, but I always want to hold as much of that person’s humanity in mind as I can.

People have always gossiped, and to some extent engaged in whisper campaigns. Aside from the righteous call-outs of companies and people who are actively trying to oppress others, people who just pull some dumb-bell move will wind up having to pack it in and move to some remote godforsaken place before they get to grad school. Back in my day, that person in class who wound up in a Slam Book got talked about and avoided by 60 people. Now if you do anything online, you might be whispered about loudly by 600,000 people. That includes Googling employers. The entire internet is a forever expanding Tardis modeled bigger on the inside slam book and that just seems unsettling.

I took my thoughts and questions to (where else) Facebook and got loads of links and responses about whether or not our time on the internet was helping or hurting. A friend suggested I look into Sherry Turkle’s interview with On Being, a podcast reflecting on technology and our lives. Another suggested Danah Boyd, a researcher who looks at tech and how young people use social media.

Like I said, I’ve been complicit on the internet (and I’d like to think I have some sense in general) but I don’t always know the difference between alerting people to things that need to be known and enjoying the hunt, the sport, of smacking someone.

My practice has to be about answering these questions:

-Will seeing this information help me or harm me?
-Will sharing this information help anyone out there or harm them, as well as myself in sharing it?
-Does this information/person deserve basic human respect and questioning prior to sharing?
-Does questioning need to be done in person or online, is this person/information a danger to people personally or politically?

But I should be asking you! You weren’t raised by technology-free wolves at all! You’ve had the internet for most if not all of your life, and using Twitter and Facebook, Skype and Vine probably comes as easily to you as breathing.

What do you think? What rules and regulations did your parents and peers set for you when you were starting out? Do you find the back and forth and RT and subtweets and meta tweets overwhelming? Have you ever been caught in a loop of exposure? Let me know in the comments below.

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