There's a real, fascinating, sometimes frightening, but ultimately beautiful world out there. Then there's a fake, surreptitious, sometimes comforting, but often crude digital world.
I think you can tell which one I prefer based on that description alone.
Both worlds are populated by actual people. In one world we see those people face-to-face, usually forcing a level of civility, politeness, and kindness. Not always, but usually. There are jerks, douchebags, fools, and a few dangerous psychopaths out there, but mostly when we're in-person we're nice to one another.
In the other world we see people through an avatar, a social media mask, removing nonverbal forms of human communication like facial expression and tone, usually stripping away the norms of tact and empathy in the process. Usually, but not always. There are kind, caring, and loving people all over the digisphere, but looking through a screen sometimes puts blinders on our otherwise exceptional eyes, leading to crassness and cruelty.
Every day most of us encounter both worlds. We watch as digital communication implodes into friend-on-friend Facebook wars (and maybe sometimes we even participate), before having a real world friend-on-friend lunch that restores our faith in humanity.
I ride the same roller coaster: I usually try to be an advocate instead of an argument, but sometimes I fail. I also make an effort to connect for real with my friends and family as much as possible, but again, sometimes I fail.
I was recently tested on both fronts when I received an abrupt blast from my distant past. Someone took the time to send me an angry message and then promptly blocked me so I couldn't respond. Beyond the fact that my interpretation of events couldn't be more different from theirs, I wasn't able to explain myself or to possibly apologize for any hurt I caused so many years ago.
There was the social media mask, staring me in the face and resorting to anger, but not willing to let us talk it out like real humans.
I may never truly understand this strange, new, loud-but-noncommunicative digital world, but my goal is to survive and be kind in it.
When given the chance, we should opt to spend our time in the real world, the present, as much as possible. But when we do dive into the murky digital world, we can bring with us the same civility, cordiality, and conversation we typically use in the real one.
The ability to hide behind the digital mask is physical, we're literally separated, so it was bound to change us. But maybe with a little extra effort---giving that update, comment, message, or block a second thought---we can act more mindfully about it.
We can learn to treat our fellow man like they're standing right in front of us, even when they're actually miles away.
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