Last week was rough, and I went to bed last night praying that we would start fresh today with less hate and more hope. Yet this morning I woke up to stories of more protests, some of which closed down interstates here in South Carolina, fueling more hateful rhetoric online. We are a digital firm and, as such, we have been loud proponents of transparency through online tools for more than a decade. Unfortunately, today I see almost too much transparency; revealing the evil parts of society and the dark parts of man.
Perhaps as a byproduct of the reality television generation or just the egotistical nature of man, today many want to go beyond just speaking their minds or sharing their moments with their friends. They literally want to broadcast their entire lives online. We used to make fun of those who shared everything they eat or every time they went to the bathroom, but today that’s become the norm. It’s even encouraged by the world’s largest digital companies like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. You don’t have to watch a wave of Pokemon GO addicts — heads down and walking into walls — to know that we are all living in our cell phones. We aren’t just using our cell phones. They don’t just have our attention. We are living in them. They are our homes. Which means that, inevitably, those things that should stay in our homes become public.
I don’t know if there are more cop shootings today than there were a decade ago. I don’t know if there is more violence in general than there was a decade ago. What I do know is that now we see it because of the way we are living our lives. We don’t have to watch occurrences filtered through the media because now everyone is the media. Everyone is a reporter armed with a camera able to broadcast to the world immediately. And because of that we can see a black man soaked in blood, dying in the driver’s seat of a car — while a four-year-old comforts her mother as it is happening. I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America. But at least I now have more empathy because I see it happening in realtime without life being recreated through a revisionist historian. There are no doubts, no questions. There it is, right there. That’s the good part of digital transparency.
Here’s the bad part: The responses are immediate. People aren’t just telling their neighbors their thoughts. They tell everyone. And those thoughts are magnified and built upon with more thoughts. Then arguments happen because, online, you don’t have to look a person in the eye to call him or her a name. Everything gets heated. The differing sides split further, each collecting more members growing further and further apart. The angry and inflammatory rhetoric spills over into the real world where more protests and more violence happens—and all of it broadcast online where the cycle continues. Eventually, you can’t be for black people AND the police. You can’t be for gay people AND gun rights. You’re for one or the other.
Today, we have all knowledge from the entire history of the world at our fingertips. We are able to collaborate with people from the other side of the world. It’s free. It’s immediate. It’s small enough to fit in our pockets. We have the tools at the right price and at the right speed to solve all the world’s problems. All it takes is effort. But those efforts are being wasted on the self-indulgence of the “look at me, look at me” generation and the idea that free speech really means “I should tell everyone exactly how I feel all the time, and I should be perpetually validated.”
We hoped the Internet would be a place where people would come together, share big ideas and solve big problems. I still have that hope. But today, as I type this, the Internet is a place for people to reveal the darkest parts of their souls, dividing our nation — because yelling obscenities is easier than watching a TED Talk.