There is something that happens online, which is nothing new, but has intensified of late: a kind of collective editing process between people who communicate by text. This can be both particularly deadly and damaging, and have great potential for learning.
The danger lurks in the shadow of the collective. When we put our raw thoughts and emotions out into the social sphere, there is feedback: a flurry of support, outrage, affection, complaint — love and hate speech. This could make us entirely cowed as human beings, and terrified to express our individuality; it could progressively turn us into cowards, cowed before social judgment, never raising our voices at all above the mob. Or conversely, we could become aggressively reactionary, constantly attacking and criticizing wily-nily. It’s like we have brought the inquisition into our most intimate space. People are afraid to speak their minds, even if they are talking all the time. On the hand, social networks teach us pretty fast what we should never say in a larger social context.
In the beginning, social networks were like the wild west after the invention of the handgun. People were getting slaughtered everywhere, there was a state of perpetual carnage. Personally, I still bear the scars of lost friendships and unkind words, spewed out indiscriminately, on the internet. The carnage continues, but it has abated a bit. Why? Because people realized that there is a better way to use this technology to communicate. We have civilized ourselves a bit, even if the collective space has become a bit sterile. It’s like what happens to cities: the bad neighbourhoods, which are violent but also have certain charm, get gentrified. As the gentrification continues, how to we keep truth speech alive?
There is also the positive aspect of feedback, if it is artfully given. It’s quite natural to be criticized by society, it’s how we learn to out in the world. A good father should be critical and uncompassionate at times: he pushes us out into the wilderness to learn independence; wherase a good mother should be protective and nourish our creativity and communal spirit. We need to be exposed to both cutting and nurturing forces. If father is too harsh and judgmental, he damages the child. If the mother is overly encouraging and suffocating, she raises narcissistic brats. We are a mix of both the father and mother literally, and obviously the mix varies between people: a woman can be stereotypically male and stern for example, and many men today are soft and compassionate. The point is: these forces are constantly working both inside us and in the larger society. We can notice how these forces operate in us and try to use them consiously for our betterment.
Feedback on social media, if it is properly filtered, could help us to communicate better, and even teach us how to write, to a certain extent. We don’t need to go to writing workshops anymore if we have intelligent friends, for they will spontaneously correct us. Social networks, for better and worse, will increasingly influence how we speak and present ourselves, as video becomes omnipresent. This is already happening at lightening speed, and will lead to more madness, as chaos and alienation that arises from this very imposing form communication. However, listening and watching to people speak may be even more natural to us as a species than reading, as it is more ancient and primordial, and video learning may replace classrooms soon. Perhaps in the future, talking books wsill be the dominant form. These talking books will spontaneously update themselves, until they have become perfectly crystalized forms of spontaneous expression.
On the other hand, we don’t want to drink the utopian Kool-aid. The dangers are monumental and the pathologies will be legion. There is a great battle coming and every Samurai will soon be employed.