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Will the web make us boring?

This isn’t a post about technology addiction, about people turning into zombies due to habitual smartphone use. It’s a brief exploration of the idea that always-on communication platform are encouraging a society where we’re unable to be ourselves, to get angry, to express an opinion.

This whole post is a continuation of a theme I explored a year or so ago, and was sparked by a conversation with Max; he was talking about the now infamous video of the lady blocking traffic in Bath, who then proceeds to get unnecessarily antsy with the chap filming. It’s not a nice video (ends with the lady’s husband threatening the chap filming), and not particularly interesting (videos of traffic rarely are), but the whole reaction is worth exploring. The lady in question has been subjected to abusive phonecalls, something that isn’t pleasant and that definitely isn’t the remit of those threatening abuse.

The Bath car video is typical of a variety of instances where something happens* in the real world, someone gets angry, expresses a particularly vitriolic opinion, maybe even gets a bit lairy, and then through misfortune ends up first on YouTube, then consequently a forum and if they’re really unlucky, they end up on the Daily Mail site. Sometimes it’s not a video, it’s a tweet, or a leaked memo, but basically it boils down to the same end result – people pour scorn and you look a proper wally.

With Twitter, Instagram, Justin.TV and many other digital platforms, it’s never been easier to get stuff online as quickly as it happens. It’s also never been easier for others to react to this content, form snap judgements and get angry. Rightly or wrongly, the world is now listening and your actions are up for debate. Good thing? I’m not so sure. On the plus side, we’ve never lived in such an accountable society – YouTube has become the playground tell-tale of the digital world. On the negative side, we’re all human and everyday conflict and anger is a reality.

Obviously, the answer is not that we become boring, and live so rigidly that nobody ever has reason to bash us online. The only sensible option is that we accept failings. We accept that people will lose their rag every so often and stop giving the outbursts the attention they don’t deserve. Of course the tabloid side of the media will continue to revel in the slips and outbursts, but those of us that believe the web is capable of more than tittle-tattle should make efforts to avoid it.

*It’s worth noting that I’m not talking about genuinely offensive outbursts. If somebody is ignorant or nasty enough to say something racist, homophobic or in any other way harmful, then they deserve the full force of the internet. Like this jerk:

Image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user SliceofChic.

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