A little while back my mom wrote a funny piece for the Huffington Post about how she’s a “dream squashing” parent. It was a satirical meditation on her inability to tell her children anything but the honest truth, no matter how harsh that may be. And how she’s learned as a parent that, if you have nothing constructive to say to your children, you should just keep quiet.
Needless to say, her sarcastic self-deprecation went over the heads of some who took the piece a little
too literally and stormed the Post’s message boards in a furious rage. There was name-calling and finger-pointing all to my mother’s surprise. “The piece was meant to be about learning to keep your negative thoughts to yourself, and yet there is a message board on the Internet berating me about it. This all seems so hypocritical, no?” she said to me over the phone a few weeks ago.
I agreed, and had to explain to her that these days anything you put out on the Internet is going to be met with a crossfire of judgment. Because my mother isn’t Internet savvy, she was in the dark about this rise of online criticism. She was unaware that the World Wide Web now allows random people the freedom to say things they would never normally say if it weren’t for their cyber anonymity.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, that anonymity has helped create a digital world that thrives on sense-less bashing the likes of which the boomer generation has never seen.
To that point, I remember a few years ago taking a playful jab at the Twilight franchise while I was hosting a show at MTV Canada. The clip happened to make its way onto YouTube and I foolishly made the mistake of reading the viewer comments. The online Twihard fan union was not happy. To this day, I have never read more disgusting, hate-filled, grammatically flawed sentences written about anybody, let alone me. Up until that point I didn’t know that speaking ill of the franchise meant that I deserved to be “chaned up, tortured and crucified [sic].” My apologies. I certainly know now.
But, I love the Internet. I love how it’s allowed me to keep in visual touch with my friends who live in all four corners of the globe. How it’s created a forum for us to share and exchange ideas. In many ways the Internet is about diversification and yet, in the wrong hands, the digital world can use those very examples to reinforce the narrowest of perspectives.
Canadian rapper Drake recently went on record saying that he fears for his generation when it comes to our dependency on the Internet, citing specifically Tumblr—a mixed-media DIY blogging tool—as a resource that he feels detracts from our drive to create and make some-thing of ourselves. We’ve become accustomed to repurposing and living vicariously through other people’s work instead of going out and making our own.
Personally, what scares me most is the thoughtlessness the Internet can perpetuate. I don’t see anything wrong with appropriating other people’s experiences or even being critical of what we see or read if what we’re appropriating or criticizing is aided by an educated reason for doing so. Without it, we just collapse into old-fashioned schoolyard name-calling.
And with that, I want to tell my mother—who has since expressed some apprehension about the kind of crazy she might have to endure if she were to write another piece for the Post—that taking to heart those hollow online comments is essentially giving those words and those people the power they so transparently crave.
At the end of the day, she wrote an affecting essay and they wrote swear words. Trust me, the world (wide web) needs more of the former.