It is safe to say we are all on the internet too much. I recently celebrated not surfing the internet on my smartphone for a whole two hours by binge watching the latest season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. I celebrated not being on the internet for a few hours by getting on the internet for a whole day. Doh!
With all it’s faults, the internet and social media have improved one very important interaction—debate.
A lot of Americans are absolutely terrible at debate while we all excel at screaming. I knew America was in trouble when the exclamation point became acceptable in business emails. (Here in the U.K. nearly every business email I get ends with an “x” and it makes me cringe every single time unless I know that person is gay because then I know it’s an air kiss.)
Americans are historically bad at debate simply because our country is so big we’ve never had to be good at it. Don’t like your neighbor’s political views? Stay inside your massive home or move your entire family further into the countryside. If you don’t like what your partner has to say, think or feel, just go to a different side of your house where it is entirely possible to not see each other for days.
People in big cities like New York, Boston and Chicago do slightly better with confrontation due to limited space and shitty weather but do not often excel in offering logical arguments or case building. All too often, the most persistent gets what they want simply because they are willing to be as annoying as herpes.
People in America like to have practice arguments with people who completely agree with them. These practice arguments are easy to spot. They usually start with a finger wag and a sentence that starts out with, “And if you think…” and ends with, ” Then you’ve got another thing coming!” directed at a close friend or family member who agrees with them completely. Of course, it is almost never a sound argument. It is more likely a rant taken for a victory lap in an empty stadium.
In the past, if you got into a spoken argument with anyone about politics, religion, or even a movie, people just ended up shouting how they really feel and how anyone that doesn’t feel the exact same way is a heartless piece of shit. This might happen in front of people, but more often it is reenacted in the car on their way home from church.
The rules of debate have not really been taught and so meaningful discussion is wasted, like playing chess with someone that doesn’t realize when they’ve lost and continue to move pieces around the board convinced that they’ve still got a chance at winning since they still have pieces on the table even though their queen is long gone. When their opponent leaves the table after winning the game, guess who thinks they’ve won because there are the last to get up from the table?
I’m from Kansas City, an area where the American Civil War started and continued to fight a year or more after it was over because they didn’t want to believe it was over. It’s a fact that makes me laugh and cry at the same time. The movie “Ride With the Devil” touches on it and it has two of my favorite lines in cinema. “Have you ever been with a woman before?” Answer, “I have killed ten men.”
Facebook and other social media sites have made accountability for one’s words possible. Arguments can be made with researched articles and holes in logic can be pointed out (along with spelling and punctuation mistakes) Finally making it possible to know exactly how stupid your friends are and that’s ok. Everyone is stupid. The problem is when people insist on staying stupid. Social media gives us the chance to look back and see exactly what we wrote and how stupid we were, Plus, we have the technological tools to become less of a tool.
Sure, we risk being called a troll for giving our two cents on a post and we may even be threatened. ( Internet trolls have told me that I’m a horrible bitch that deserves to die but in all honesty, it’s nice to hear from Mom now and again.)
I’ve been getting in a lot of Facebook fights recently and I’m glad. I feel like I know my friends and family better than I ever have and genuinely think our relationships are better for it. Sure, I’ve deleted some “friends” and have blocked others who are so far up their own ass that I’m not going to stick around to watch them turn inside out. Some people exist to waste time but they aren’t going to waste mine. That is what YouTube and Instagram are for.
I am grateful for the chance to have meaningful discussions with friends and family that simply wasn’t possible before.
Now when a friend insists Biblical Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was impotency because “Why else wouldn’t he say what it was?” I can now show other people that I’m not crazy, I’m just surrounded by stupid and that helps me breathe a little easier.
I’m Spring Day (real name, hippie parents)
Moving back to the United States after having lived in Japan and traveling the world for 16 years has been a bit of a head fuck, especially since I now work in the U.K. My blog “The United States of Shock!” is where I give my brilliant and bitter two cents, pence, yen and euro on my experience with culture shock and current events. If you have any questions you would like to have answered in a snit, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org