The Big Issue : Edition 506
THEBIGISSUE4–17MAR2016 13 Of course, many lettered people have written about this new site for interaction and how it reduces our empathy, enhances our need to assert ourselves and causes us to argue about almost nothing at all. Despite the fact that lettered people have been writing about the danger of communications since Gutenberg’s machine – my favourite complaint about the unnaturally hasty nature of interaction comes from a 1908 newspaper editorial which frets that postcards will be the end of all human decency – this Facebook business has really changed us in a very particular way. In part, I think, this interaction is making us stupid. Most of us are not equipped to absorb such a volume of ideas and so many accounts of different lives. We look at these pictures and dispatches very quickly, confident that we are marvellous multi-taskers capable of comprehending 10 new concepts and problems an hour, and then we respond very quickly. If we are lucky, we half understand the intention of the person who has posted a particular thing – and if we are luckier still, the person who originally posted did have a clear intention in mind. Even if they did, we are bound to misinterpret it and we respond in a way that may jar them. And then they, also overwhelmed with interaction, respond with indignation. How could you have misunderstood me so badly? Interpretation piles on top of misinterpretation and in five minutes, the picture of somebody’s child in fancy dress has turned into a heated dispute on the questionable ethics of dressing your kid like a leprechaun. The experience makes us stupid by reducing our comprehension and offering us much more than we can ever process. And the way that we respond is never according to the best advice of lettered professionals – who say useless things like “just log off” (in this era, you might as well say “just try living without money”) – but by asserting ourselves. I have certainly noticed this tendency in myself. Frustrated with being misunderstood, I become a more hyperbolised version of myself online and try, in every action, to act as a very me kind of me. Or, at least, I did until I noticed that everybody else had become just this kind of aggressively marketed version of themselves. We interact less as confused people and much more as extreme brands. We must not appear to be confused, everyday people who change their minds and habits; instead we try to be like Coke, Pepsi or that Facebook friend you have who is always showing pictures of their Paleo breakfast and posting tedious articles about Big Pharma. It is so exhausting to live as though we are all differently branded commodities jostling for attention on a supermarket shelf. It is so tiring to always be on message. It is so peculiar to see the dangerous spontaneity drained from our exchanges and replaced with a considered, if hollow, statement about who we’d like to be. “My favourite complaint...comes from a 1908 newspaper editorial which frets that postcards will be the end of all human decency.” RAZER Antisocial Media PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND SOCIAL MEDIA, SO they say, has shifted the Western world on its cultural axis. It provides many with the nonstop opportunity for human connection. This sounds marvellous, until you remember that people are really very disappointing and that human connection can be a bit of a pain in the fundament. But this is a fact we are doomed to forget in order to live, and we connect, over and over again, in the hope that we will not be disappointed. Of course, we’ve all been terrible to each other since the birth of society. The marvellous nonstop opportunity for human connection etc has not changed our capacity to be mutually vile nor our need to forget this fact. But it has certainly sped things up. I suspect I am becoming viler and more forgetful than my ancestors. I contend that you are, too. » Helen Razer (@HelenRazer) is a writer and gardener, who doesn’t want to read another word about Big Pharma.