Social media—in theory—is a great idea. We can use it to connect with loved ones we might otherwise not have the opportunity to. We say we are too busy; however, we seem to find the time to go online and read their posts. And there is always the chance to spread optimistic messages and hopefully make someone’s day a little brighter.
But is it a social experiment that’s failed on almost every level? We have children committing suicide after severe and cruel online harassment. We spend more time in front of a computer than anywhere else. How is it affecting even mature adults?
The last few weeks have made something clear to me. Social media has become little more than a place to comment, give thumbs up or down to, and review everything. I’m not speaking about people espousing political views or the #MeToo-type movements. At least, those sorts of observations and truths give us a chance to evoke possible thought, insight, and change.
This essay (I’m calling it that because I’m so tired of the word “blog”) is about judgement. My writing relies on readers leaving reviews on Amazon. My side graphics business depends on word of mouth through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, I’m online a lot—too much!
This world-wide computer experiment has been both brutal and eye-opening. The picture above is from the Black Mirror episode Nosedive that reveals the unyielding stress and unhappiness of living to impress others—many of whom we’ve never met in person or have only had limited, inconsequential contact with—all wrapped in a bright pink, shinny package.
The main character, played by the bubbly Bryce Dallas Howard, goes through her life trying to make everyone she meets happy in order to obtain points. These ratings go towards not only social status, but apply to every aspect of her life.
This brings me to my point. We now live in a society where our livelihoods are dependent on the judgement of others. They aren’t people with any real expertise in reviewing or the topics at hand, just people with opinions. Everyone is entitled to have them, but we have become a world of people who can hurt others without ever having to witness the final result of our actions. Don’t believe me? Follow the president’s Twitter feed objectively.
Why are we encouraged to “post in comments” about which public figure we hate? Of course, as a writer I stand behind freedom of speech, but is this why it exists?
Does the fact that an actress doesn't wear black to an award ceremony to protest something mean you should fire up Twitter and go after them with both guns blazing? Does the color of a dress change the direction of the earth's rotation? Please ask yourself why publicly crucifying someone you don't even know makes you feel better.
As these universal platforms to build or destroy lives evolve, the control over our own destinies has diminished and with it our ability to do our work in a way we see fit. As a self-employed indie writer, I don’t expect everyone to love or even relate to my books. Writing and graphic design are arts, and as such they’re naturally subjective mediums.
So, we’re told to grow thick skins. Arguing with reviewers is strictly frowned upon. Anyone having a bad day or feeling a little power can use us as human punching bags who they never have to meet in real life. The consequences of their actions will never be known to them. In fact, we aren’t even flesh and blood human-beings to many of these persecutors.
It’s a bit different with my graphics business. My customers are mainly part of my online network of author friends, most of whom are warm generous people.
Occasionally, I cross paths with customers who don’t know what they are looking for and rake me over the coals to try and please them. If this happens publicly, it has the potential for a direct impact on my future sales. I can only imagine they are using this to manipulate me for their own gain. Then, I’m forced to give more than I’m being paid for as a matter of integrity and to keep my reputation intact. That might not be their ultimate goal, but it is the result of their unthinking actions.
Now, I must tighten my circle of trust and shield myself from seeing the results of judgement and criticism from every Tom, Dick, or Harry who happen upon my work.
The next time your food server makes a mistake, consider that it might just be an off day for them. Don’t lash out on Yelp to end their career or to cause trouble with their boss just because you can.
What I’m asking is to think before you post. Simple, right?