I have recently asked myself how it is that a place which is so populated by cute cats appears to be run by venom spouting trollish monsters? What are we in the process of creating? And how far are we responsible or complicit in what is happening?
I hope I’m not being overly contentious when I say that I believe there should be virtual communities where we can feel free to communicate our thoughts and feelings and where people go for positive reasons not just to demean, diminish, spew hatred or ridicule. I don’t want to go online to feel superior any more than I want to go online to feel inferior. And I feel sad that the virtual world now seems more like a dystopia than somewhere one can broaden one’s horizons. Here be flipping dragons all right! But there must be friendly wee voices too, surely?
‘There are many ways of being in the circle we call life.’ I know that. But what I’ve learned over the last year in particular is that when an opinion appears to be out of favour in the robust world of cyberspace it is punished harshly. Oh brave new world. I am particularly uncomfortable with the thought that we are all colluding in the creation of something that isn’t what any of us actually want. I thought the internet was supposed to be an environment for freedom of speech for all. But my personal experience suggests that voices of dissent are silenced even more robustly on the internet than they are in other environments.
Like a lot of people I spent some (too much?) of my youth in pubs, exploring the ‘real’ world with people I didn’t know that well but called friends. As I recall, we didn’t all share the same opinions, we didn’t all agree (often we didn’t actually know our own opinions firmly) but we had a good time, we came together to discuss what the world was like and what our places in it might be and how we might play our parts in society as a whole. And crucially it didn’t always (or even ever) end up in a bar brawl. These days, stepping into the virtual world seems more akin to waiting to get hit very hard over the head with a bar stool or listening to the noise of one hand clapping.
The reason I’m writing here at all, is that this week I’ve got the ‘Meet the McRenegades’ slot and I’ve spent the last month stressing out about what I should write about myself and my thoughts and beliefs regarding writing and publishing and have spent most of my time wondering why would anyone give a damn what or who I am or what I think about anything to the extent that I nearly just put up a piece of fiction. Speaking in a fictional voice is that much easier. (Maybe this is key to our understanding of the virtual world – but why is it that many people’s virtual personas seem to be so bolshie?)
I have been writing and re-writing for days as I struggle with what I feel comfortable with ‘sharing’ any more. I feel that I am editing myself out of existence.
I fear that the wee voices (not just here, but everywhere) are on the wane. That at best we will all be hounded into cyber-ghettos where we only ever engage with people who share our homogenised thoughts and opinions. That at worst, we will find that no one is listening at all. That we’ve created a tower of babel where no one wants to listen and learn everyone just wants to shout. The Big Voices will dominate. I don’t want to engage in the Big Voice world, any more than I do the dark web and certainly not when its modus operandi appears to be Shout Loudest, Kick Hardest, Crush the Weakest. But does that mean that my own wee voice should be silenced because I won’t play according to Big Voice rules? Wee voice world seems polarised at present. Vilify or invalidate appear to be the two stances available. Either ‘voice’ and risk being hounded into the ground by Voices Big and Small or find yourself more alone than on a desert island, wondering why you are even virtually here in the first place.
The internet is supposedly limited only by our imagination. So is it beyond our imaginations and abilities to create communities which are open and positive even in their diversity. And which are not primarily aiming at monetisation or world domination? Where we can accept others as individuals with depth and value, where wee voices are not just voices that are so much easier to knock down and/or ignore. I have this nasty feeling that we are getting the experience we deserve – you’ve got to be in it to win it – has taken over from it’s better to give than to receive. But mostly it’s just the Sound of Silence. Cliché or truth. That’s your choice.