UNFOLLOW

“Whenever I see anyone I’m following on a given social network celebrating their follower count, I unfollow them.”

“Why?”

“Because there’s enough hubris in my own life; there isn’t space for anyone else’s. That and, if I continue this practice long enough, there’s the hope that I’ll unfollow everyone and regain my freedom.”

“You could just unfollow everyone right now.”

I laughed. “No, it doesn’t work that way. It’s more akin to tattoo removal than erasing a whiteboard.”

HASHTAG

“Me? I couldn’t care less how other people choose to spend their time, so long as it’s not actively interfering with other people’s good works. You hear about this all the time, about how some faceless individuals on the Internet are making life difficult for so-and-so on some social network. The thing to remember is that those interactions are all playing out on a website. By and large the little cause-and-effect dramas that play out are entirely voluntary. Someone pointed me at this movement that started last year over some minor drama and supposedly exploded into this giant convoluted monstrous hate machine, and maybe for them it’s real, but that’s only because of how they structure their reality. I’ve always held the belief that our perception of reality is fluid and mutable. Try to think of it like this: your sphere of influence (which, bear in mind, is a two-way mechanism of equivalent bounds) floats around in the aether along with everyone else’s, like bubbles in space. Sometimes these bubbles intersect, and you get conflicts of interest, sharp agreement, and everything in between. And those intersections aren’t limited to just a one-on-one meeting of the minds. You can be overlapping with an infinite number of other realities all at once, depending on how you’ve positioned yourself. It’s like if you’re sitting at a table with three other people. One of them is a friend you’ve had for years, a person you know well enough to trust and you share a lot of the same ideas. Maybe your little bubbles intersect like, 75%. There’s a complete stranger at the end of the table, someone you’ve known for a minute, and so far the impression’s been bad and you’re just not sure about them. Your bubbles barely touch at all, perhaps not even one bit, and you’re only peripherally aware of each other. Then the last person knows this stranger even better than you know your friend, and is passingly familiar with you. Their bubbles almost completely overlap, while yours share just a narrow slice.

“Here’s the kicker, though: you’re free to move your little bubble any time you like. You’re under no obligation to share or lease any of your brainspace with anyone else’s. It’s entirely voluntary. You can be in close physical proximity to someone, and yet be wholly exclusive of their mental machinations. You want to try and tell me that a bunch of people playing mind games on some website are going to have any kind of impact on my reality whatsoever? Do you really think I have that little control over my sphere of influence? It’s patently ridiculous.

“And you want to know something really important about all of this? If there are these people engaged in the type of social warfare you describe, where the battleground is a communication-limited social network, I say good for them. Let the people who want to punch that particular tarbaby do so, let them get mired in it. If they’re getting something out of it, good. Perhaps there’s some lessons there to be learned, and they’re all just going to school. But the real importance of it is that those who are participating are spending their energy there, engaged in ultimately fruitless battle, spending their time and energy on insignificant, temporal communication instead of building things that might have a real impact on the culture at large. Oh, they’ll say that they’re changing the world, that what they do matters, but that’s only to stave off the despairing reality of the situation which is that they’re engaging in pointless diversion that’s no more impactful on the world at large or the future history of humankind than the sharing and dissemination of cat pictures.”

DISTRACT AND DIVERT

“Have all the previous generations been so threatened by other people’s ideas that they’re driven to attempt to anonymously silence them?”

“I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. It could be that we’re living in a time that enables that sort of thing.”

He hummed, a contemplative noise, the human cognitive equivalent of a cow chewing its cud. I kept tapping away at the keyboard; the code wasn’t going to write itself.

“I’d like to know,” he said, “if Victorian-age people would work so hard to fight against things they perceive as social justice. If they’d persecute others for wanting something as basic as equality.”

“Probably. Where do you think that comes from, anyway?” Tap, tap, tap. My caffeine-fueled fingers moved with expert grace.

“Are you saying-”

“Fear of ideology doesn’t just spontaneous manifest itself. It needs an ideology to hate, for one thing. This would require mass communication and freedom of expression. Any time to pass before those thresholds in history you’re less likely to find suppression. Victorian era? Sure. Early Grecian? Unlikely. But people meeting in forums would still sling garbage at people who said things they didn’t agree with, and the greater the perceived power of the opposition the larger the amount of crap they’d hurl. Now you’ve got anonymous mobs that could consist of a single person, or thousands. It’s that uncertainty that creates a kind of amplification effect.”

Again, he hummed. “I still think I’d need a time machine to decide for myself.”

“Then you’re never going to come to a decision. Why do you care, anyway? If we’re talking about what I think we’re talking about, you do know that those arenas where those conflicts occur are completely voluntary, yes? Anyway, social justice is a lot like religion.”

“How so?”

“It’s best practiced, rather than verbally expressed. It’s the whole deeds versus words thing. I think our mass communication networks have just made us lazy, and established this sort of illusionary reality where we’re made to believe that we’re affecting change, when all we’re doing is being distracted and diverted. The only casualties of cyber-wars are people’s hurt feelings. Oh, sure, they’ll act like the sky is falling, that there’s people preparing to come and take your freedoms away, but really? You can turn off your computer and go about your business because reality is still a place where people are packing guns to protect their rights, and there’s a maddening spaghetti-laced system of checks and balances to navigate before anyone’s civil liberties are revoked.”

“In this country, at least,” he said.

“That’s what we live here, isn’t it?” I asked, and leaned across the desk to give him a peck on the cheek. He smiled, the first I’d seen that morning.