Let me start by saying I love the internet and social media. I love the instantaneous nature and instant gratification surrounding all it has to offer. I love being able to connect with people and events in my life – all from the comfort of my own home. And truthfully, can it get any easier? Need to know something? Google it. Want to touch base with a friend? Message them. Appreciate some cute pictures of your friend’s new Labradoodle? Like them. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s fun.
However, like with most good things, problems can still arise… (Ice cream? Good. Eating too much? Stomachache. Eating too fast? Brain freeze.)
Here’s my issue. This simplistic, instantaneous nature that makes the process so enjoyable has also succeeded in providing some people with a false sense of courage and security. It’s so easy to send a quick “Hey there” to a friend or a “Love your product” to a brand – but unfortunately it’s just as easy for people to spew out streams of negativity. There are far too many examples of people saying negative things to or about people, businesses, etc. – all while hiding behind the safety of their computer/laptop/Smartphone. Facebook groups, message boards and the Twittersphere are great resources for a number of things – but being able to interact with people you don’t know and have never met seems to give some people the idea that they can say or do whatever comes to mind without considering any or all consequences of their words.
People tweet or post negative or cryptic comments about people in their lives and can become much more hurtful or aggressive when sending messages or emails to a person – simply because typing words on a keyboard seems to remove them from any emotion or reality about how these words will be received and/or perceived.
This isn't to say some people have very valid things to say and reasons to say them. After all, the world is not always full of sunshine and lollipops alone. It's just the off-the-cuff comments and excerpts that seem to be thrown out without any thought to their impact or consequences that don't seem right.
The process of getting feelings, thoughts and emotions out via the written word is certainly not a new development, and it can be an extremely helpful, informative and cathartic process. Sometimes it’s easier to truly articulate all that a person is thinking or feeling through a thoughtfully crafted note, then to find the words and speak them aloud. I’m a huge fan of the written word and think more people should take the time to appreciate all that it has to offer.
The problem occurs when people convince themselves that making unfounded assumptions, uninformed judgements and general negative and hurtful comments – and sending them unedited into cyberspace for the world to read – is somehow acceptable. I’m not sure how that cultural shift began but it saddens me to think people are operating under the assumption that there is no responsibility or accountability for their actions – even ones as simple as sending an email or firing off a posted comment.
One of the lessons I have always emphasized with my nine-year-old son is “Use your words”. It’s important to me that he grows up knowing that people can often be judged by the words that they choose to use – both when writing and when speaking aloud. I want him to know that words carry great power and that he has to make the conscious choice each and every day to take responsibility for the words he puts out there.
I know that we are all incredibly lucky to live as we do – with the freedom to express our thoughts and feelings however we choose, and with the technology to allow ourselves to do so quickly and conveniently. But it’s also important to treat that freedom with the responsibility that comes with it. Just because you hit “Send” or “Post”, doesn’t mean you don’t still own the words. Next time you’re about to fire off a tweet, post, message or email, take a look at it and think – would you be okay reading this allowed in front of the person or company you’re sending it to or about? If not, maybe it's time to take a deep breath...
Second photo image credit: http://www.writingforward.com