We live at a time in which we see more violence and threats to our daily lives than ever before. We think that the solution is more regulation of the devices used in that violence and that threaten us. I don't know. I am not much of a gun person, for that matter, but I am not sure that guns are all that much to blame. I wonder if social media is not partially at fault. I wonder if the mass media attention to those who promote such violence that threatens us is not also partly to blame. And I wonder if our own appetite for such coverage and our own morbid curiosity for it all is not also partly to blame.
It seems to me that social media tends to trivialize both friendship and threat. It has become a place to complain, to vent, to yell. People friend and unfriend as if this were really about friendship. People speak anonymously about things for which they should be held accountable. People threaten and rant in ways that seem to divide us even more. We have not become more tolerant or even more interested in those who disagree with us. Instead we have become more rigid and ignorant of the positions of others. The guilt rests on both sides, to be sure, but it also lies in the muddy middle which seems content to let it all happen. Are we desensitized to it or do we choose to allow it?
Clearly we have used social media like the mass media to emphasize what is base, vulgar, and hateful. Clearly we seem to delight more in exposing wrong than doing right. There is so much good that could come from the tools of the internet but it seems to be squandered too much on the bad. How much of the internet is devoted to pornography, for example? How much of social media is used to complain and to be more content in the complaint than in anything else? It has all become fake news but we don't seem to have an appetite for truth. I think social media promised us so much but we failed it by using all that technology for some of the worst purposes and we have done so without embarrassment or shame.
No, people are not badder than they were but the worst of our voices have become louder and our influence greater through the megaphone of social media. And we seem to glory in this discontent more than just about anything else. Would things be better if we did not speak through the megaphone of social media? If real friendship was the norm instead of digital connections? If we had to look into the faces of people instead of merely pressing the send button and sending forth our anonymous tirades. Even if it is not used for evil or vile purpose, so much of social media is trivial and shallow. How do we prevent us from learning to be just as trivial and shallow as the media we use? The technology has not failed us but we have failed it. We have taken the gift and turned it in a curse. Connected online, we have failed to connect in our neighborhoods and communities.
It is a gun problem, to be sure, but it is even more a problem of culture and values. Our technology glories in violence (video games so realistic it is hard to distinguish the virtual from the real). Our music glories in violence (against women, especially, but against those who disagree with us or get in our way). Our values have shifted responsibility away from us (blaming circumstances or situations and creating a climate of victimhood). Our prejudices seem to define us and we wear opinions as masks to present ourselves to others and to the world around us. In the end, what I fear most, is that social media has only amplified the worst in us and does little to promote the cause of virtue or make the case for morality and individual accountability. It is a gun problem but it is also a problem of those whose finger is on the trigger and of the culture which promotes digital violence everywhere and then stands in shock at those who act on it in real life. How is it that the Hollywood which feeds the appetite for violence and the people who feed on that screen violence can now be surprised that people act out in real life what they have portrayed on the screen?