I clearly remember how awesome I felt, coming home for a visit after my first quarter-term at university. I was nineteen years old and in those few months, I had magically learned absolutely all there was to know about life. I was ready to change the world. I was particularly scholarly and knowledgeable with regard to the handful of Psyc 101 classes I had attended up to that point, which had provided me with great insights into my parents. I quickly set to work to teach them everything I knew, knowing how happy they would be that I could ‘fix’ them now.
I am not what anyone could describe as a social media junkie but like so many my age, I rather like Facebook: you get to reconnect with old friends from childhood. You stay in touch with family members who live far away. You stay connected with old work friends. You share all kinds of jokes, recipes or news. You can even join clubs, tailored specifically to your needs and interests! Like so many people, Facebook became a lifeline for me during the social isolation of the Covid pandemic.
When I was a kid, I aspired to owning my own set of encyclopedias, which seemed to me the height of ‘being rich’. Like almost all my friends, however, I had to go to the library to use an encyclopedia. I didn’t go there for just any old thing: it had to be really important if I was going to bike all the way to the library to find out whatever little piece of knowledge I was seeking.
I will therefore remain amazed – to the end of my days – at how easy it is now, to look something up on the Internet. Want to knit a pair of mittens? Talented people will show you how – step by step – on YouTube. Your doctor told you to lower your cholesterol but didn’t give you any specifics? No problem: you will find reams of reliable medical information and healthy recipes in no time at all. Want to know how tall your favourite celebrity is? Yep, even that silly question can be answered with the click of a button.
I recently joined a local Facebook page that posts the headlines of current events. The news is pretty mundane stuff. Often, I don’t even bother to read any further than the headline. Sometimes I refer to the news link the page manager always incudes in the post. Occasionally, I read the comments.
Always, always a big mistake…
I come from a really nice, rural part of Canada where strangers wave at you as you pass by them in your car. People stop to help you if your car breaks down. Everyone – even teenagers!!!! – speak politely to you. So, I was appalled and saddened by a sudden increase of random meanness and cruelty in the comments section of our little local news page. To what end would people ever speak to one another that way? Would they say these things to one another if they were in the same room? Knowing the folks around these parts, I strongly suspect they would not.
A few weeks ago, I quietly crept away from that page, which is a shame, because it was a good, fast and reliable source of news. The vile comments, the easy anger, the foul language, the cruel taunts, the nasty jabs: well, they hurt my heart (and rather ruined my day).
I understand righteous anger. I have even posted, a time or two, on political events that really upset me. But it is the meanness that takes my breath away. I know we are capable of better. But is it still possible for us to reign in all that nastiness? Or is it like Pandora’s Box, now opened and released on the world; too late to take it all back?
Kids are allowed to have a Facebook account as of age 13. I don’t know if you remember but I sure do: kids that age are impressionable. Kids that age can be wonderfully kind but they can also be incredibly mean. And they are listening to all of us. There is no way they are unaffected by the cruel comments some grownups post all day, every day.
I have always believed it takes a village to raise a child. That village doesn’t even have to have an awareness that the kids are paying attention, but you can be sure they are paying attention. They hear (or see) every word. And I do wonder: what kind of ‘village’ are kids today growing up in? No parent could shelter them from all the vitriol that is out there.
Remember when mothers washed their kids’ mouths out with soap if they said something vile, or mean, or crude?
Yeah, me neither. I am 60 years old and that parenting fad had already passed by the time I was born.