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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
Last week, for reasons explicable only by deepgeeks, the most popular social media platforms in the world were suddenly turned off and remained inaccessible for several hours.
When they flickered back to life, in the evening by American clocks, they positively quivered with messages like “We survived” and “I’m still here.”
I’d have expected that of peasants emerging from vineyards outside Pompeii in 79, but not of people who, it must be said, hadn’t been in the least threatened with extinction by the loss of puppy memes, updates on an enchilada plate or barrages of anonymous vitriol.
The forced internet silence must in some quarters have produced wails of anguish and may, in people of a certain ilk, have resulted in the sort of hair-pulling loss of all balanced reason that prompts us to commit them to rooms where the walls are soft.
Have you ever tried taking a cellphone away from a middle schooler? It isn’t pretty.
Seriously, you might as well amputate a leg or something.
Come to think of it, they can live without a leg. They can’t live without Facebook.
Last week’s breakdown came within only hours of revelations that painted social media platforms in a negative light. Some users, it seems, had been lured to pages and sites online that made them feel negatively about themselves and – tragically in some cases – furthered abuse, bigotry, and self harm.
Lured. Enticed. Tricked into going there. As though it were someone else’s fault that these gormless sponges had spent their waking hours vegetating on a sofa and clicking on anything that tickled their fickle fancies.
Furthermore, and we can pretend to be shocked at this until the cows come home, the capitalist enterprise that lets us chat with each other on our tiny screens was shown to have profited handsomely from taking action that would encourage people to keep looking at their tiny screens and absorbing advertisements.
Unable to vent electronically during the shutdown, the public bottled its collective venom for the hours immediately following service restoration, by which time opinions had aged about as well as vinegar and came roaring out under the sort of pressure I associate with Montezuma’s Revenge.
What horrified me more than anything else – and there was plenty horrifying about peoples’ experiences on the dark side of popular platforms – was that nobody thought to ask why parents have been letting their children have unfettered access to some nebulous electronic world populated by the very types we’d certainly never invite into our homes if they knocked on the door.
Yet they’ve been knocking on our kids’ bedroom doors for years and someone’s been letting them in.
Perhaps someone forgot to lock those doors in the first place.
We have two critical issues in hand here. On the one is a clear failure by the elder generation (including me) to warn the innocent and impressionable, to educate, to supervise and to lay down the rules; on the other is a learned resistance to the new addiction fed by the chemicals released in our brains when we are plied with platitudes or fueled by fury.
We’ve learned a lot by scraping the ash off Pompeii’s unlucky elite. Perhaps one day someone will unearth our little devices, read our horrid little messages, stare at our memes and reconsider referring to us as the enlightened and civilized.