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The medium is the message: Relationships

This isn't so much about politics as it is about what a political backdrop seems to be revealing (to me) about people, mediated communication, and relationships. Nothing earth-shaking; just new applications to stuff I've been thinking about. I'll post the stuff that's more directly political in a separate entry.

Probably 80% or more of the political craziness I've been exposed to (and part of) this year has been on the internet. That's a nice, grounding realization—my face-to-face interactions with people are far less tense and more civil. The spectrum of opinion is no different; the behaviors are exceedingly better without exception. Also, all things political tend to shrink to more appropriate sizes in person, while online they often balloon to gargantuan proportions (with results from silly to monstrous).

There's a difference between broadcast and conversation (I originally wrote "dialogue," but that's so overused as a buzzword that it threatens to become meaningless—better to let it lie fallow for a while), and much of internet communication is the former. Even the more conversational elements are more like quick broadcast bursts in their nature and content. And of course, as many have observed, the lack of responding faces tends to remove such guardrails as compassion, accountability, and social norms, making our careening off of one relational cliff or another all the more likely.

There are no internet people. All of us have bodies and faces and lives. When I get frustrated online, perhaps the best medicine is to turn away from the screen and engage people face-to-face. Everything that bugs me online is much more a function of the medium than of the real people behind it. Sure, some of us may even have neuroses and pathologies in the mix, but that's only as much my problem as I let it be (even neuroses and pathologies are often easier to cope and deal with in person, and they don't get caricatured as they do online).

I owe it to real people to spend more of my energy in relationship with them than I do responding to broadcasts from them. The people initiating the broadcasts are real, but the broadcasts aren't the people, and most of us haven't really thought much about ourselves and our responsibilities as broadcasters at all.


true words these.
As I was writing this entry, I scrolled through my friends list and saw yours. Very much connected with your thoughts.

It's possible that the in-person political civility I experience is rooted in Seattle's vocal homogeneity—the vast majority of the population shares similar thoughts and discusses them (i.e. affirms one another) with great gusto. Many of those who don't agree just stay quiet because we don't want that noise turned into an attack on us. We nod our heads through tirades of generalized outrage because introducing a different perspective also introduces the possibility of having that outrage directed toward us.

That's the worst case, and it's important to acknowledge how it might play into how much less conflict there is in person vs. in media. But more than that, I really do think faces play a role in giving us some modicum of context and sense with one another. It's too bad we have so much trouble remembering that in email forwards, message boards, blog entries, and the like. Sometimes I really don't think we're ready to be this "connected" to others we're so disconnected from.