I read an article once that considered the journeys of various technological advances from life-enhancing to life-draining. It gave examples like cars and emails. When cars became widely available they changed the face of nations. Fast, personal mobility changed how towns, cities, industries and communities behaved.
Yet, as the numbers of cars increased so did congestion, pollution and road rage. At some point the number of cars on the roads will lower the blessing of having one.
Email is similar. Emails became widely available when I was at University. In those days if I received 10 emails in a week I felt bombarded. Nowadays, I have 36000+ unopened marketing emails. Email initially steamlined our workloads but all these years on, they have increased our workloads exponentially and, I believe, added stresses to our lives that we didn’t face before (at least not at the same levels.) Cars, emails, mobile phones etc. all incrementally move from life-giving to life-draining.
The last few weeks I’ve begun to wonder whether Twitter and Facebook aren’t heading in that direction. It feels like they are fast becoming the playground of the angry and the abusive, the racist and the bigot, the misogynist and homophobe. It seems no matter which hashtag I click on,it only takes a few seconds to find something that causes me to wince.
Whether it is a threat towards a female MP behind the hashtag #LabourLeadership or the mocking of an athlete’s appearance behind the hashtag #Rio, it’s all there. In 140 characters we can the worst words we utter, amplified by the Internet to a global audience. What shouldn’t even be uttered alone in our homes is now broadcast to millions.
Whilst wading through the gutter-level name calling in search of something balanced on #LabourLeadership I found myself muttering, ‘this isn’t a world I want to live in.’ I don’t want to live in a world where it is ok for someone to tell an MP that they should be murdered because they stood against Jeremy Corbyn. Neither do I want to live in a world where decent people who are voting for Jeremy Corbyn are called vermin or ‘thick as pigs**t.’ I don’t want to live in a world where feminist writers speaking in defense of Muslim women being forced to publically strip by the police are threatened with rape. I don’t want to live in a world where refugees are mocked in cartoons and poor attempts at puns. Yet if Twitter has taught me one thing, that’s the world we live in. I could leave Twitter before but that feels like letting them win.
This isn’t the world that God made. This isn’t how it’s meant to be. This is what happens when we collectively lose sight of who we are and how we are all connected as image bearers of the one who created us. This is what happens when freedom of expression incrementally moves towards ‘anything goes’ but we can all stop it happening and turn the tide.
We can decide to respond to the trolls with silence, and agree to not retweet their venom. We can respectfully debate those we disagree with and refuse to err to abuse; ‘they started it’ is far from a Christian principle and I’m yet to see it gain anything in my 30+ years of hearing it. We can continue to celebrate the good in life; photos of coffee, cats and duck faced selfies. We can continue to write clever puns and social observations. We can collectively commentate on #GBBO and vent when Paul and Mary send the wrong one home. There is so much life to celebrate.
We can use our voice, 140 characters at a time, to make the world a little brighter. We can use our voices one Facebook post, blog, letter, email, speech or conversation at a time to speak hope, peace and love into the world.
I often feel intimidated by how loud the angry, threatening and abusive voices feel but their voice is no more than any others. The voices for good can drown out the opposite voices and we must speak loudly.
It feels like the journey to the world I want to live in is impossibly far but if we all go together we can go much further than we imagine. If many take the same single step an exponential amount of ground is covered. So let’s go to the world we want to see, and let’s go together.