Let’s Send Social Media to Kindgergarten

The recent level of discourse in our country may well indicate we are all severely overdue to take a refresher course in Kindergarten 101. 

Of all the things taught to me by my dear kindergarten teacher, Miss Hayes, chief amongst them was politeness.  For example, raise your hand to request to speak.  Do not rudely interrupt.  Never speak over someone else.  Refrain from saying hurtful things about others.  Say please and thank you.  And, one of my personal favorites, if you’ve got nothing good to say then button your lip.  Thanks to the ever increasing level of road rage on the information superhighway, we are sorely in need of learning those lessons all over again.

The Internet age has exposed our brains to a level of inter-personal communication widely eclipsing the depth and breadth of communication known to previous generations.  Sadly, it has also winnowed down that organ’s ability to maintain a minimum level of respectful discourse online.  More and more the tools from our toolboxes of common courtesy and decency are going missing.  We sure could use Miss Hayes’ help right about now.  But, she is long gone.  Mercifully so, too.  If the poor woman was forced to witness to the level of impoliteness in our digital dialogue today she would be begging to be in her grave just so she could turn over in it. 

If we dared break any of her golden rules of being polite to her and each other there would be hell to pay.  The transgressor of her sacred commandments of politeness would be forced to march to the front of the class.  Not only did they have to apologize to the one transgressed but to ALL of us. The grand finale was when Miss Hayes pulled her handkerchief out from the tucked in sleeve position and with a wave of it directed the culprit to the corner of the classroom for a jail term of her choosing.  Civility was defended and restored. 

This is not to be in today’s cyber world.  Were we to attempt to employ Miss Hayes’ method today hoping to resuscitate the prone body of Internet politeness, we’d need more corners to put bad boys and girls into than can be found in a lumberyard piled high with two by fours. The Internet is a great and wonderful thing.  The impact it has had on countless lives around the world is nothing we could have ever fully imagined when it first emerged.  More can be expected to come down the pike to amaze us.   However, its positive aspects are accompanied by some unwelcome side effects. 

For example, it has sent courteous engagement between human beings flowing down the cyber drain.    It provides a place where a false sense of anonymity instigates the spewing forth of mindless vitriol.  It is all too often used as an engine to race from zero to irate in less than sixty seconds.  When did we all become guest stars in the Angry Birds game? 

Perhaps it was when the emotionally charged personal opinions of web surfers intersected with the Internet’s ability to easily share them with all the world – instantly.  If you stir one-part controversial topic together with two parts of extreme viewpoints, you can pretty well be guarantee the resulting mixture will be a keyboard pounding gladiator duel to the death.

On the Web, there is a consistent place to view this particular type of comment posting pugilism.  It is found at the end of any online article, blog post, news item, etc.  The dreaded ‘Comments’ section.  There, a person’s ‘inside’ voice becomes their ‘outside’ voice.  The nastiest attacks get launched upon the most benign of thoughts shared.  An army of World Wide Web snipers are just waiting to take somebody out. Wielding their weapons of crass deduction, they ready, aim and fire.  Their targets?  Anybody who dares to have a viewpoint that dissents from their own.  Truth, logic and reason?  They can slow a good baseless argument down.  Manners?  In the virtual online world not even virtual manners exist.

Most significantly absent from Internet blather-o-sphere is accountability.  The belief now is, if your true identity is hidden then you don’t have to be held responsible for the effects your words have on someone else.  This has resulted in a concrete block tied around the ankle of personal responsibility.     If only the Internet were to magically transform into Miss Hayes’ classroom. The place where all those great lessons were taught by her and countless other kindergarten teachers.  We could step back from our glowing screens, have a snack and take a nap.  And, no longer would any of the Internet’s unbecoming behavior – as she would term it –  be tolerated.

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