The Crescent

The Internet Breeds Xenophobia

March 22, 2013

Technology centralizes communication in modern culture and establishes communication as the basis upon which our lives and actions rest. Increasingly, our world is one of interaction, of other people. Over the past hundred years, the magnitude of our sociability increased both laterally and vertically; as extraneous time and extraneous income grew, families spent more time among one another, and rapid advances in technology and transportation caused our sphere of social influence to swell exponentially. This, perhaps, is the golden age of communication; the state of respect and personalty is more dubious.

My conscious compels me to preface my observations as such: I am certainly not a social reactionary who clamors and fusses over what I perceive to be the tarnished state of people and our culture. I do not wish to regain an antiquated lifestyle characterized by laborious hours of endless toil and an abbreviated lifespan. The problems I address are not unique to our time, but they’re unique to humanity and the human condition. Our society, our state of being, simply allowed them to surface.

Unlike past centuries, when life consisted of work in agriculture – long days in the torrid heat – or smoky, choking factories, life today is, comparatively, creative and cooperative. Speaking in generalities, our work consists of intellectual and service-oriented duties, allowing us not only the time and income to interact with others, but the education and conditioning. We’ve been socialized to be personable, to seek out the company of others, and when interacting directly we take great pains to be polite and friendly.

Why, then, do we foster such a belligerent sense of animosity within our digital interaction? Beyond the personal attacks on message boards and comment sections – which, tragically, are so common they’re essentially overlooked – on websites, our natural posture online is provocative, even on illogically-labelled “friendly” sites like Facebook.

Commenters and writers post inflammatory, biting remarks for the sole purpose of entertainment; it’s not even bullying in the traditional sense. The internet sharks don’t feed on the melancholy of others – it’s not the gratification of a negative emotion or a case of schadenfreude. Instead, to those sufficiently acidic to do so, the results are truly pleasant and entertaining; they launch personal attacks to bask not in the negative emotions of others, but their own positive ones.

Frankly, it’s sick. The internet allows a level of anonymity that depersonalizes, allows the attacker to focus his malevolent energies upon a screen name and an avatar, rather than a human being. Quite obviously, there’s something about a person’s corporal form – the spark of his eyes or the intensity of his gaze – that latches upon the soul, reminding you of the commonality of the human condition.

Online, this dynamic is lost, and the results are often tragic. As capable as humanity is of accomplishing good, of performing astonishing feats of selflessness and empathy, there exists within each human heart a parasite of insecurity, a doubting of one’s validity. Thus, the vileness of humankind forms.

I cannot suggest a remedy to this pattern of dehumanization, and a solution to humanity’s insecurities escapes me. However, I know that dehumanization, personal relief through the belittling of another, constitutes the first, timid steps towards bigotry, hatred, partisanship, and xenophobia. So it begins.


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