Speaking in extreme generalities, we can separate the main components of our society into two categories: real-world & web-based societies. The events and interactions we experience in the physical world every day is what the real-world society is comprised of; it is what we consider to be normal within the environment we live in. Web-based societies include any and all experiences we may have within the realm of the internet and is vastly different than the former example.
What we experience in the real-world, for the most part, is people acting in accordance to communally accepted forms of behavior (again, extreme generalities), while many present in the web-based world can often apply a different set of rules to encounters they have with others. What I mean by this is people on the internet can disregard cultural expectations and act freely without any actual repercussions, if they remain anonymous.
Internalizing issues that may or may not have a direct impact on an individual’s real-world experience is a consequence of utilizing the web-based world and is responsible for the internet being referred to as the “rage machine.” People are free to vent their frustrations from both worlds on this platform and the outrage is evident if you read the ‘comments’ section of an article or scroll through our president’s Twitter feed. Rarely are those thoughts expressed by any of us during our interactions with those who are physically present (other than in our cars maybe).
While we certainly take issue with the way people treat each other, in both worlds, we want to discuss the outrage that seems to plague the internet and our lives. Regardless of the subject matter or which side is chosen on an issue, it is acceptable to be angered by the things that matter most to you. The problem occurs when that anger is misguided or expressed in an unproductive way–calling people names, using offensive or inarticulate language, etc.–inciting more anger from those who disagree. Problems will never get solved that way.
The other issue, which is perhaps one of the most important to address within the web-based society, is that internet outrage is incredibly fleeting. Rolling news, short attention spans, and the demands of the real-world are to blame for this as it is easy to become distracted by new information that “requires” our attention. That is why the majority of us forget about several issues that, in the moment, we were so passionate about but wound up becoming distracted by our anger over something else.
This poses a huge threat to our civilization’s ability to solve social problems. We should be grateful that the internet provides us with access to a vast amount of information, much of which highlights injustices and the needs of those around the world, but by enraging us so often, we forget to solve the problems of the present. We start looking ahead before the issue has even had a chance to be addressed.
For example, many of you may remember the Keystone Pipeline controversy from a few years back. There was endless amounts of anger…until everyone forgot and moved onto the next outrage-inducing problem. Recently, the pipeline spilled and we can’t help but wonder if it could’ve been avoided had there been some follow-through. Outrage like this comes and goes within days…remember all the shootings? The people still suffering from hurricane aftermath? Nazis? Etc.? Have we solved any of the problems involving these issues? Will anything we’ve done help us avoid running into these problems again?
The reason the outrage machine worries us is because there are issues that cannot be ignored and need to be addressed and fixed as soon as possible. Many are furious about all the sexual harassment issues…but we’re afraid nothing will be done because, other than those directly affected, people will forget by the next news cycle. Outrage without follow-through is just anger–it’ll never solve our problems.
If there is anything clear about the internet society, it is that none of us seem to care about fixing the problem, just the problem itself. Let us learn to be better and focus our outrage on fixing the problems at hand.
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