You hear it a lot: people on the Internet are mean. Brutal, even. The Internet is a thriving cauldron of hostility and emotional cruelty! What in God’s name is wrong with people?!
Here’s the real answer: nothing. Or, at least, not much.
Most of us have problems that seem huge to us, but are really limited to us — that’s why they’re called “personal problems.” Sure, they can affect others, but primarily, they’re stuff we have to deal with. Previously, we largely kept our problems to ourselves, sharing them with only our close friends. But not anymore!
Now, there’s the Internet, specifically Facebook, and Twitter, where you can captivate your friends, casual acquaintances, and total strangers with just how much you hate your job, or how annoying it is to drain that boil every six months.
At least until somebody tells you that it’s a “first world problem” and to stop whining.
This is hardly a new revelation here, but the Internet — especially Facebook and Twitter — feeds our self-involvement. We can go on, at length, about anything we want. Hence the rise of Annoying Facebook Girl — many of us sadly do just that. There’s a reason that 4Chan’s rule of the Internet is the sarcastic “The Internet is Serious Business”.
In fact, Facebook has brought us closer together as a world and forced us to realize that we genuinely just do not want to talk to a lot of the people we’re connected to. They’re nice and all, but often you’ll have nothing in common with them — especially with the passage of time — and if you have to hear about their crappy boyfriend or their family problems one more time you’re GOING TO SCREAM.
But we’re committed. That’s why Facebook uses the term “friend” — they really, really do not want you to buy what they’re selling. We’re their “friend” and “friends” aren’t dicks to each other. At least until they can’t take it anymore, and finally call their “friends” out on their crap.
We don’t think the Internet is making humanity more callous — we think the Internet is starting to teach us that our personal problems are just that, personal. While we can expect people to be sympathetic, we can’t expect them to care about your problems more than their own.
And, at first, that’s a hard pill to swallow, until you realize that this means you’re freed from caring about the problems of people you barely know, too. This doesn’t mean you should treat them badly, or be rude to them, but it also means that if neither of you is really close, neither of you is obligated to care as much as the word “friend” implies. And that frees us up to care more about our real friends, the people we actually know.
Ultimately, social networking builds up our egos too much, makes us think we’re the center of the universe. So it’s up to us, all of us, to pull each other back to Earth, to remind each other that it can always be worse. In short, we need to be dicks to people and accept people we barely know being dicks to us because it makes us humble, it makes us more willing to listen where it counts. It makes us better people.
Also, it’s funny. But that’s a side benefit.