Cyber World Vs. Real World Social Norms
Like many people, I was shocked to learn of the passing of Prince. Unfortunately, the world has lost a lot of talented people this year, and the sheer fact that he was only 57 saddens me. I wouldn’t say I took the news as hard as some of the people I know. I don’t have any meaningful stories to tell in connection with this artist, and I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore Prince fan. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think I have any records, cassettes, CDs, or digital copies of his music. I have never even seen the movie Purple Rain, and I could probably only tell you a handful of his song titles if put to the test. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him. He just didn’t really make it into my musical rotation growing up, but I definitely wouldn’t complain if someone else was playing his music. I recognize his songs, appreciate his musicianship, and I can comprehend why other people have been so greatly impacted by his death.
I do have many friends that adore Prince, and my first thoughts, after the initial shock wore off, were with the people in my life that I know really enjoyed his work. I was comforted by the outpouring of support and tributes I saw on Facebook and Twitter immediately following the news. People seemed to be coping by expressing their disbelief and sharing personal memories. Some posts were sad, others were hopeful, but what they all had in common was that they fulfilled a human need to connect with others possibly feeling the same way. I knew that for the rest of the day everything would be purple, maybe a little more emotional than usual, and I was okay with that. This ability to connect and share is one of the reasons I love social media, so why should this event be any different?
This time, however, my love for social media too quickly turned to a strong dislike, and that is the reason I am writing an article about a person that wasn’t really a major part of my life. I am writing this, because I want to talk about how some of us that aren’t as personally connected to Prince chose to respond to those that are.
It seriously only took about an hour before I saw my first, what are they thinking post. It was basically someone complaining that people were idolizing a celebrity, and we should all care just as much for the many more tragic deaths this year that have received little to no attention.
Then I started seeing people complaining abut how many Prince posts were in their feeds, and how happy they would be tomorrow when the Internet was a lot less purple.
The tipping point may have been when a friend of mine shared how Prince’s music got her through a really rough time in her life, and his death was hitting her pretty hard. A lot of supporters chimed in and shared similar stories, but there was one comment that just rubbed me the wrong way. It said “Never liked him. He was an idiot. Don’t care that he’s dead.”
Deep Br… Excuse me! What?
I’m starting to notice a trend online that I really do not like. People seem to have this sense of entitlement that translates into sharing whatever random thought crosses their mind whenever they want. Sure we all technically have the right to say and do what we want online, but I am sure we are all aware of the notion that just because you CAN say something that doesn’t necessarily mean you SHOULD say something. Perhaps it is because many of us are online friends with people we don’t interact with on a regular basis in the “real” world. Maybe it’s the fact that we aren’t face to face with the people we are talking to. It could even be that some people are given a powerful tool of expression before they are really ready for it. Whatever the reason, I see people responding in ways online that go against the basics of what we were taught about social interaction as children. Be nice.
I would like to illustrate with some social examples from the “real” world. This past September my grandmother passed away, and earlier this month a friend’s grandmother similarly passed away. I didn’t go up to her and say, “I don’t know why you are so upset. My grandmother contributed more to society than yours ever did, so shouldn’t we be remembering her right now?” Another example would be that when a coworker is talking incessantly about a loved one that died years ago, we don’t all gang up on her in the office and tell her to shut up, because she’s bringing the rest of us down. In addition, if our neighbor is complaining about the flat tire he got on his way to work, we don’t scream at him over the fence, “You are so self-centered. Don’t you know a boat of 500 refugees capsized on its way to Italy this week? You should be ashamed of yourself!” Aside from a few just plain obnoxious people out there, most of us don’t interact in our community with such vagrant disregard for other people’s emotions. Even when we think a person is a little out in left field, we don’t openly ridicule them to such extremes in public. Most of us have the decency to keep quiet if we have nothing nice to say, or we have enough tact to challenge an acquaintance’s conflicting view points one-on-one in private. While people aren’t always nice in the real world, for the most part, we don’t walk around attacking our friends and neighbors any opportunity we can get.
Maybe some people still view the cyber world as this magical place where anything goes. Maybe they think of the Internet as a digital empire of anarchy where absolute freedom of expression reigns. Newsflash! The cyber world IS the real world! It is a part of our lives, and I don’t think it is going away anytime soon. There are plenty of places where it is appropriate to share beliefs and debate, but social norms tell most of us that it would be rude to start an argument with our aunt at our uncle’s funeral. It would be improper social etiquette to tell a woman to her face that her newborn son is ugly, or to openly ridicule another person’s religious beliefs. It would also be absolutely ridiculous to tell a stranger at the grocery store she’s a moron for mourning the death of a celebrity like Prince. Imagine if before checking out, we just turned to that stranger and said, “Never liked him. He was an idiot. Don’t care that he’s dead.” I am pretty sure we would get some horrified looks, and when it happens online, people should be equally as horrified.
As an eternal optimist, and someone that really does believe most people don’t intentionally go around trying to hurt everyone’s feelings, I am hopeful that people just need more time time to recognize how their words impact others in this relatively new environment. For the past few years in the classroom, I know we’ve been teaching lessons on something called digital citizenship. This is the notion that individuals are responsible for the things they say and do online just as much as they are in the “real” world. We encourage the younger generations to refer to the acronym T.H.I,N.K. before putting anything in an email, sending a text message, or posting anything on social media. T Is it true? H Is it helpful? I Is it inspiring? N Is it necessary? K Is it kind? I try and remind myself of these points as well when interacting online. I would like my digital neighbors to feel like I care about them, and I don’t want them thinking I am just some big insensitive jerk.
I know this isn’t much about Prince, as an artist. I know it’s really about something else, but I do want to end with my own Prince story now. Yesterday my 9 year old daughter came home from school, and she told me that she heard a prince died. I told her that it wasn’t that kind of a prince, but it was a musician that a lot of people really liked. She asked me if I knew him and if I was sad. I told her that I knew of him, and I was mostly just thinking about the people he was really important to. Her response was, “It’s sad when anyone dies, even if you don’t know them. I hope his friends feel better soon.” I think that’s all I have to say. Perhaps the younger generations will lead the way.
Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts. Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.