Perhaps it’s us who are in the wrong here. Perhaps our expectations of a century of universally-educated civilisations were simply too high. Perhaps it’s us who’ve got it back to front. Perhaps the bastards are right to grind us down.
I don’t believe I believe so. But there’s always a tiny space for a shadow of a doubt.
The issue, essentially, is that Twitter, Facebook and a small number of other social networks don’t only tell us how it is – they also tell us how it always was. From a right-wing prejudice-based bias at the heart of a supposedly venerable BBC journalism and journalist to long-held Tory attitudes about Northerners and Northern spaces to abusive relationships between men and women, between the powerful and the disadvantaged and between the rich in general over everyone else, all that the last few years of online connectivity seem to have offered us is a consistent falling away of any veils of innocence.
Twitter, Facebook and that small number of other social networks I mention aren’t making a new world: they’re simply, flatly and painfully reflecting a very old one. When heavy-handed police actions bubble to the surface of our perceptions on such a huge scale, most of us who were taught as children to respect the state’s good faith will question whether something is radically different; will question whether something is radically changing.
Sadly, I don’t think it is. Sadly, I believe that such networks and media are only informing us more clearly of what we already got up to and did offline; of what we already got up to and did before social came along.
Our politicians a ragbag of corrupt self-serving auto-publicists? Yes? And? So what’s new?
Our business leaders a cabal of establishment-infiltrating fascists? So? And? Need me to explain any more?
Our men and women (mainly men though, it would seem), predisposed to insults and slagging the disadvantaged violently off, given half a virtual chance? Wow! And? Who’d have thought it?
This is the underbelly of life turned over and exposed to the light of online examination.
The underbelly was always there though.
Women were always abused by their partners; by their nearest and dearest.
Politicians always trampled on electorates.
Business leaders always took ruthless advantage of their customers; always hid their dirty boardroom linen.
Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s changing. In fact, the only difference I can see is that all of us can see and share more of the shit which they (that is to say, we) used to hide.
Perhaps, then, what we need to propose is something different from this simple reporting, spreading and retweeting of shit. Perhaps we need to reconceptualise the purpose of social: where the Tories condemn socialism as a tool for the desperately poor – even as they reconfigure and reuse it as a pig-trough mechanism for the scrounging rich – maybe a better use of social would be to reproduce environments of support for the disadvantaged. Don’t people our timelines with stories of disheartening state and corporate violence – or, at least, don’t people all our timelines with such depressing news as this – but, rather, instead, move to use our connectivity to enthuse and organise parallel environments of a kindly and supportive society of the benevolent.
Yesterday I exchanged a tweet or two on the subject of building a new Berlin Wall around London, with the aim of encircling and enclosing all the prejudiced Tories within. An underground movement could at the same time be established to help those not of a Tory persuasion to escape their fate.
This was, of course, a joke. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem very funny. Unfortunately, it seemed all too attractive to those of us exchanging our evermore bitter comments.
Maybe connectivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Knowing too much about the underbelly of life doesn’t necessarily make one more powerful any more. Knowledge isn’t power these days. The willingness to brazenly lie, on the other hand, is.
And I realise, as I reread the above before publishing, that I was a naive little citizen for a very long time.
I’m not sure I don’t want to continue being so.
The problem with veils that fall away, however, is that once on the ground the evil do proceed with their trampling.
The real corporate purpose of social, if you ask me? To remove all choice of naivete; to remove all chance of childlikeness.
To remove, ultimately, all possibility that our (once shared) humanenesses may return from the caves in which they currently, frightened, hide out.
But we still have an opportunity. We still may cast a tiny shadow of a doubt. We still, even so, may be able to turn the tables on the moneymen. If only we can make of social a proactive tool for the parallel, perhaps one day we can re-emerge blinking from our caves. Perhaps one day we can recover our humaneness. Perhaps one day social won’t just tell us how it always was but, instead, help us define exactly how it really should be.