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I worry.

I was just thinking about the way telecommunication connectivity has affected our social interactions, and, therefore, our identities. I was thinking, in particular, of a couple of issues that I have seen pop up time and time again. You don't have to spend much time in any social media venue before you encounter people who have a profound need to be seen as exceptional as well as many more who are striving to conform to a chosen subculture or belief system. I've actually encountered a surprising number of people who fit both descriptions. I suppose that this does make a certain amount of sense, given that they are really opposite sides of the same social identity coin and we humans do seem prone to internal contradictions.

Of course, none of this is new, but I do wonder and worry about the effect of the internet on the healthy development and expression of social identity. After all, if someone has an audience of hundreds or thousands, they can get a lot of reinforcement and even financial rewards for portraying themselves as The Most Extraordinarily Remarkably Special One Ever even if that means pretense, exaggeration, or outright lies. I have no doubt that everyone reading this knows what I mean and could give multiple examples from their own online experiences.

Social media, in particular, also provides us with the opportunity to form groups based upon common interests, beliefs, or challenges. Don't get me wrong; just like friendships in person, they can provide support for individual growth, give us strength during hard times, and act as third party sounding boards for our ideas. However, it is easy to see what can happen when like-mindedness becomes same-mindedness with little tolerance for questioning or dissent. The circle gets smaller and tighter until it only includes those who are willing to accept the opinions, beliefs, and practices of The Group as their own. The members who remain are those who are willing to conform to the laundry lists of rules and expectations of what constitutes Our Way of Thinking. Any violation of these will lead to censure or expulsion. If the common thread that ties the group together is also one of those that stitches together a person's own identity, rejection can take a scissors to that as well. I suspect quite a few of you have encountered group dynamics like these over the years. I know I have and sometimes it was in the most surprising of communities.

Most of the time, however, the effect is more that of simplistic, black-and-white groupthink. I am sure we've all seen just how immediate and clearly delineated by group membership the responses to any controversy tend to be these days. For a large-scale example, consider the various reactions to the deaths of Trayvon Martin or Shaima Alawadi. Between the news media and social media, the rushes to judgement were veritable stampedes!

I worry. I worry because we humans have the ability create a tool and then turn it into a weapon to be used against ourselves and others and our telecommunication connectivity is one powerful tool. I worry because our natural inclinations to strive for status as well as belonging have caused us so much of the trouble we've seen.

I just worry.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2012 07:02 pm (UTC)
I am hardly the likeliest candidate to present a silver-lining option, but you also need to consider that the same telecommunication connectivity fosters groups like ontd_political where contributors sometimes (frequently) spit and hiss at each other, and there are dissenting views, but everyone seems to operate with the understanding that as long as someone isn't being an uniformed douche-hat, his/her thoughts should be taken seriously. And then everybody gets together on the Friday Shenanigans Party Posts and raises a glass together, despite ruffled feathers from earlier in the week.
Jun. 1st, 2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
I might have to join that community.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 12:41 am (UTC)
I mentioned this and have been lucky enough to experience this, rollicking arguments. I have several friends I've been lucky enough to meet over the internet and I am very glad of that.

It has been a while, however, since I have been part of any non-astrological or art- and entertainment-related community on LJ or elsewhere. I have left most of the groups I have joined in the past few years because of nasty, personalized disputes or excessive ruliness. Check out the profile for the feminist community here for an immediate sense of sisterhood (and an application for membership no less!). I was shocked that even the menstrual cup community was so goddamn PC that only gender neutral language is considered acceptable. I mean, seriously...when we are talking vaginas?

I am just weary and I am worried about what will become of this tool I have wholeheartedly embraced since those early days. Sigh.

Jun. 2nd, 2012 01:34 am (UTC)
I think that it was in prochoice where I got so vividly flamed (by a user named hothead, fittingly), well, I think I was a member there for about three hours. No, thanks!

I have never been very active in groups or themed communities, here or elsewhere. I prefer the direct social interactions with individuals and small networks of friends, which is good, because that's about all that is left around here!
Jun. 2nd, 2012 02:04 am (UTC)
I am all about the direct interactions and small networks of friends and astro and art colleagues these days and I am so much happier that way. I am a member of one ONE damned mostly-political community on FB and yesterday I came to realize that even there I should nevereverever read the comments. This was why I completed and posted what I had started writing the other night.
Jun. 1st, 2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
A Matter of Scale and Speed
I think all of the dynamics that we see on the internet are present IRL, it's just a matter of scale, and speed of propagation, as you mention. I do have a pro-internet bias; I found my voice on the internet. It was the first social situation/medium where I felt more welcome than not, and free to express, explore, and question.

I guess this is one area in which alienation is a good thing. I don't really feel a part of any group I can name, so I still see myself as free to make up my own mind.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
Re: A Matter of Scale and Speed
Scale and speed: yes, that is the perfect way to describe it.

As I mentioned above to CR, it is because I love my tool (Edit: he he) that I worry about its use as a weapon. The internet has helped me make (and re-make: )connections with friends that I would never have experienced otherwise and it has given me peers with whom I can discuss and dispute all manner of arcane and artsy topics. Gods, I love that! Not to mention the information, knowledge,even wisdom at my fingertips...

It has been a long week that has left me wondering why the fuck more people can't learn to think for their bloody selves. The last straw was the entire brouhaha with the pastor o' hate from my high school (rather more complicated than that, but I'll tell you about it when I see you) posting his venomous sermon and the response to it as well as to the CNN anchor who made a hash of her repudiation of his remarks. The hatred I see from the Enemy scares me and makes me angry, but I am more saddened when it is those I consider my brothers and sisters in arms to be guilty of this kind of groupthink. Sigh.

Needless to say, I do not fear for you or for the rest of us who have strong minds and stronger stomachs.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 01:29 am (UTC)
Re: A Matter of Scale and Speed
I love my tool, too! HOORAY FOR TOOLS!

Here's my silver lining: the internet helps us really know what the Enemy is saying and doing. They can't hide in the periphery with their hate and madness any longer. What we knew twenty-five years ago is just now becoming clear to everybody else, and they have to admit that, yes, it is happening. And, it is just as easy to get out the wisdom and the positive messages. WE MUST CLAIM AND RECLAIM OUR TOOL, AND USE IT FOR GOOD! =D
Jun. 2nd, 2012 02:05 am (UTC)
Re: A Matter of Scale and Speed
YES! and again YES!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )