After Sandy Hook: why face-to-face communication still matters

In the days since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, emotions–my own included–have been running high. I won’t get into to the politics of it here (I’ve done enough of that elsewhere) other than to say I’ve never been more certain I’m on the right side of an issue.

Something very relevant to the topic of this blog, however, has been reinforced in the online and offline conversations I’ve had in the past seven days. In an era where digital communication is becoming more and more prevalent, face-to-face communication is more important than ever before. Why? It comes down to one word: accountability.

I’ve said before that people arguing on the Internet are kind of like fans at a hockey game: we hide behind panes of glass and scream at others knowing we’re protected from any real interaction. It doesn’t surprise me, then, to read things on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere that probably never would have been said face to face. Factor in anonymity, and you get even further away from reality. I am certain that some of the statements made in comment threads are not even close to what people would say if they were to be held accountable for their words.

What’s the lesson in all this? First, anonymous comments have no credibility. It just doesn’t matter if someone isn’t willing to put their name on it. In addition, however, we need to be sure that what we say online is consistent with what we’d say in public. It doesn’t have to be safe or polite. It certainly can and should be charged with emotion (many who criticize the emotion in recent conversations seem to be opposed to the spirit of the argument more than the emotion in it while forgetting that a successful argument isn’t reason devoid of emotion–it’s reason amplified by emotion). It does, however, need to be honest.

Social media is great because we can bridge geographic distances and because it’s a convenient forum for sharing opinions. It’s also flawed in that it’s one step removed from reality. So we all need to ask ourselves, are we accountable for what we’re saying? If so, it’s never been more important to get out from behind the keyboard and say it in the real world, too.

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2 Responses to After Sandy Hook: why face-to-face communication still matters

  1. Andy Welfle says:

    As the comedian and actor Woody Allen once said, in an editorial after the election, “There is a social realm where things are rationally sorted and then there’s the anonymous place that brings out a person’s base instincts. It can become a frothing, bubbling cauldron of insanity,” he said. “Yet, you need that animalistic part of yourself. I think of it almost like your sex drive.”

    (Actually, that was an Andrew Beaujon article on Poynter.org.)

  2. marc-alain reviere says:

    Years ago I was watching an interview in which a hip-hop artist was replying to negative comments being made about him. The artist cited the comments as cowardly and labeled the critics “laptop gangstas.”

    There are a lot of “laptop gangstas” out there.

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