Don’t get me wrong, I love social media. I love the way it connects people with similar interests and reduces their isolation. I love the freedom it gives people to speak their minds. I love the way it connects ordinary Joes with celebrities and companies and elected representatives. I am pro-technology, pro-cyberspace, pro-all of it.
But you guys, I’m getting this weird feeling that it’s stripping away our humanity.
Remember a few years back when experts started to wonder whether violent video games desensitized players against the impact of real violence? At the time, the data didn’t indicate a connection, and my kids swear up and down that playing first-person shooters isn’t going to make them sociopaths (“There isn’t even any blood!”), but my mother’s instinct (my human instinct) tells me that sitting alone in the basement clicking for online kills (or building imaginary worlds, or moving imaginary people around like puppets) every day for hours on end cannot be a good influence on life in the real world.
I have an uneasy feeling that our society is reducing the disturbingly familiar and tragic loss of human life to a series of (well documented on Facebook and Instagram) rituals. The candlelight vigils, the leaving of teddy bears and balloons, the outraged blogs, the demonstrations of solidarity, the charitable donations … then what? What happens to the surviving families, the actual humans whose lives are forever changed?
Sorry. Apparently we’ve moved on to the next headline by then.
Is our embrace of social media changing the way we relate to the real living, breathing people around us? Sometimes, it feels like it is.
I don’t want my kids to forget, even for a second, that there’s a human being with feelings on the other side of that Facebook post they’re about to leave a comment on. I want them to view their social media accounts as communities of real live people, not as an electronic score board or a fantasy world in which they can hurl insults without repercussions. Part of the challenge in 2016 is that online friendships are real friendships, leaving us with fewer face-to-face corollaries to serve as a guideline for how to behave online. We ask our kids all the questions (“Do you personally know all your SnapChat friends?”) and say all the things (“Don’t ever say anything online you wouldn’t say in person!”), but I’m afraid our long list of rules doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter.
Instead (and maybe this is obvious to you, but for some reason I’m just figuring out how to show them this), I think what matters most in teaching our kids humanity is making sure they actually see us treating other humans well.
Looking our cashier in the eye and asking if it’s been a busy day.
Tipping our waiter well, no matter how the service was.
Calling out to the stranger who’s dropped something and lend a helping hand.
Slowing down to let another car turn in heavy traffic.
Quietly, with no viral video potential whatsoever, we need to recognize the humanity of others — in hopes of preserving our own.