It’s often said that people take the most offence to the things they see in others that best capture their own shortcomings. I’m fully aware of that as I write this.
That said, there’s a trend, at least in North American society, that when compared with our own history, is distressing to say the least.
In times past, when people had concerns, whether they be social, political, economic, etc, the exigencies of the times required interaction. As such, people tended, when faced with such challenges or concerns, to join together and work in common cause to solve this problem. This formed the pattern for change not only for the mundane and unimportant but also for the supremely important (thinking here in particular of the civil rights movement as one of several examples).
What example you’d like to choose is irrelevant. The point is that in times stretching from the Roman Republic to the post-segregation U.S. South, whenever there was something that people were concerned with, they banded together and tried, rightly or wrongly, to seek the changes that they thought were needed.
However, it seems that the advent of the internet age has thrown a wrench in this process.
At this stage, I’m sure all sorts of people are ready to brand me as backwards, behind the times, a Luddite or simply an idiot. “ Internet social media doesn’t separate people, it brings them together,” they argue. “The internet affords and allows a voice to those who would otherwise be disenfranchised.” “Facebook and Twitter allow a level of grassroots organizing that involves everyday people in a way never seen before.”
Yeah, maybe that’s true. And yes, there are exceptions to this trend; hell, the Tea Party convention just last week illustrated the power of the internet age for organizing grassroots responses to emergent concerns.
But I still have my doubts, and examples such as the above appear to be the exception to the trend.
One might view this as a trend from a culture of action (I don’t like your levels of taxation King George, therefore I am going to fight to the death to kick you out of my country) to a culture of inaction (I don’t like Conservative prorogation of the Canadian Parliament so I’m going to join a Facebook group opposing it notwithstanding the fact I don’t vote in Federal elections or pay attention to politics).
All of this reminds me of courses I took on Ancient Athenian society back in school. Why? In Ancient Athens, a common practice at funerals of prominent members of society was to hire professional mourners. These professional paid mourners, all women, would follow the body as it was moved to burial, ripping their hair out in the streets and beating their breasts, often mixing this ‘mourning’ with politically-activist overtones. This became such a problem that professional mourners were eventually banned in Ancient Athens.
So, why the hell is this relevant, Steve? I can’t help but wonder if the ‘Facebook Fan’ phenomenon is in some way similar.
After all, online services such as Facebook and Twitter provide a glossy and glib overview of one’s beliefs. These beliefs are summarized and neatly enumerated for collective judgment and organized by category.
But isn’t claiming to have certain beliefs and then doing nothing about them in an active sense a massive integrity gap? Saying that you’re in favour of one thing or another and then doing nothing about that other than professing to be for or against something – isn’t that what pundits get worked up about with respect to modern day politicians…all talk and no substance? You may be a fan of something, but does that mean that you’re actually contributing in some way?
The internet age, in a weird roundabout way, has allowed people to have their cake and eat it too – demonstrate publicly their bona fides as caring, community minded involved individuals without ever having to leave their own home, let alone do something. The risk of this trend, as I see it, is that given the anonymity of the online world and the complete lack of anyone to call people’s bluff in a meaningful sense, people will increasingly feel “good” about their stance in the world by merely declaring their position on a given issue with realizing that for 99.9% of human history, such declarations were as meaningless as the paper they were (once) written on.
I guess it all boils down to the expression “talk is cheap.” And we sure do seem to be doing an awful lot of talking.