BY EDEN FARBER / AJT //
There is a cost for the society – a society full of texting, Facebook, tweeting and blogging – in which we live. With heightened technological advancement comes lessened appreciation for human (or human-like) interaction.
When environmentalist Alan M. Eddison famously said, “Modern technology owes ecology an apology,” I don’t think he meant only nature’s ecology, but human ecology as well.
Human ecology and the way human beings interact is actually very intricate and very precious, but the way we treat one another face-to-face is very different than when we are only interacting with ideas of each other – profile pictures, user names, contacts, etc. One thing that digital communication has cost us in this broad realm of human interaction is the sanctity of a good-old-fashioned argument.
Of all the words in the English language to give a negative connotation to, the word “opinionated” seems an unfortunate one. I personally think it’s great to have opinions – to be stubborn, to nitpick the world around you, to question what’s thrown at you (and I’m not just saying that because I do those things). And even more than doing those things or having those qualities is expressing one’s opinions.
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Today – in the “Age of Social Media” – expression is as easy as the click of a button, and that’s phenomenal. However, with this ease comes laxity, and with this laxity comes aggression.
You see, once upon a time when two people disagreed with each other, they would talk it out. One would say their opinion; the other would say theirs. They would question each other and they would defend themselves.
Of course, all of this would be done with poise and care, because no one wants to get personal. I know from my own experience that even in the most intense, personal and passionate debates, I never want to come out feeling distant from the other person – I want to come out with a better knowledge of the way they think.
Yet much of that is because I am face-to-face with them – because I can look into their eyes and see a human being, albeit one to whom I’m ideologically diametrically opposed but still a creature of equal value to myself.
But with internet arguments, that intimacy is gone. Arguing is brutal and angry and just about “winning” – whether it is with the most reposts, comments, “likes” or shares – and that is both painful and frightening.
I am writing this now because it has recently come up in my life as an issue. Not long ago, a close friend of mine posted her position on a feminist issue on Facebook. In a heated discussion with a connection-of-a-connection – someone she didn’t know – she was called “****ing nuts.”
Not only did this hurt her, but it violated the unspoken code of having an ideological debate with someone. Would he have called her that to her face? Perhaps if he was antisocial, bigoted or abnormally temperamental.
But I find it doubtful if he was simply a normal person who felt passionately about the issue.
I also recently read an article attacking my position on something – a fair and justifiable thing to do. However, many of the more cutting lines that attacked me as a person, as opposed to my ideology, begged the question:
Would they have said that to my face?
We can’t argue ideology – one of the most incredible and fascinating kinds of human interactions possible – if we don’t take into account that the person we are arguing with is a person. If we lose the sanctity of criticism and it turns into a blood bath, we’ve lost the extraordinary interaction that is intellectual debate.
And I don’t know about you, but if we lose that, I’ll be crushed.
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 15, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.