I have been living online and connecting with people on the internet for almost 20 years. In the early 90s, I’d hang out in chat rooms until I heard the birds chirping just before dawn, when I’d shut down the computer and crawl into bed as the sun peeked through my venetian blinds.
Over the years, I have met countless amazing people – companions with whom I have navigated this information highway. Some of the most meaningful friendships of my life started online – a few have moved offline and have become my most cherished.
I cannot fathom what my life would have been like without chat rooms, forums, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. Immeasurable good has come out of them and they have been a huge part of my life for more than half of it.
However, there is a price I pay for living online. No, it’s not the time spent – that is a choice I make and something I can control. The price I pay is the weight of it all. So often, I come away from social sites with a heavy heart.
Years ago, I made a conscious decision to not engage in controversial topics online, especially ones that mean a lot to me and can easily become polarizing – religion, race, oppression, gender politics. Sometimes, I break my rule and it almost always leaves me feeling uneasy. Everyone has their own agenda and, to be honest, I no longer have the energy to put myself out there. I save that energy for offline discussions – and believe me, those discussions happen all the time and are infinitely more productive.
Something about the internet invites people to say exactly how they feel and what they think, regardless of how it might affect someone else. People will type things that would never come out of their mouths. For that reason, I backed away from Twitter in October and have hardly been back. There is just too much negativity and judging and criticism and agenda-pushing.
Fast forward to last night and the announcement of Whitney Houston’s death. A friend told me the news on Skype and I took to Twitter. I should have known better because last night exemplified why I backed away from Twitter in the first place.
Someone died – a music legend who provided the soundtrack to my childhood. A person. A mother. A daughter. A friend. A loved one of many. I may not have known her, but you’d better believe she impacted my life. Her songs not only throw me back to places and times, but they trigger memories of smells and textures. So many memories flooded my conscience when I found out she had died that I couldn’t sort them quickly enough.
Am I mourning her death? Not exactly. But, I sure am glad she lived.
Twitter quickly blew up with tweets about her drug addiction, assuming that was the cause of death. People tweeted that they didn’t care about her death and that she’d brought it upon herself. That is simply callous and disrespectful. I don’t understand what compels people to make comments like that after someone dies, regardless of the circumstances of the person’s life or death. I even read tweets saying she had wasted her talent. Wasted her talent. This, about a woman who during her career won 415 awards and was one of the best-selling female solo artists of all time? How is that a waste? Whitney Houston shared her talent and we benefited from it. If you weren’t a fan, why comment on it? Why choose to be negative in that moment?
Online social sites can be ugly places that bring out the worst in good people. Insensitivity, criticism, mocking, and polarizing debates reign supreme. It’s a heavy weight. People can’t tweet about what they feed their kids, how and where their kids sleep, where they shop, what they wear, or how much TV they watch without running the risk of someone picking it apart and telling them how wrong and bad they are. I don’t have time for that. I see and hear enough of that in my offline life.
Here’s to a talent not wasted:
How do you deal with the weight of online society?
Have you ever backed away because it all felt so heavy?