Here’s a Try at some 2020 Foresight — on Human Interaction

Hi. I’m back.  I thought I’d write one post just before 2019 bites the dust.  Yes, it’s been a long hiatus since I posted the video of Marshall McLuhan explaining how “the medium IS the message.” Maybe I’ll explain the hiatus in a future post.

In the meantime, going into 2020, I’d like to pick up on where I left off with McLuhan.  Consider his amazing insight: that we are shaped more by the environment a medium creates than by the content within the medium itself.

So here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine you cross paths with someone you know to be a nasty troll on Twitter, but the person doesn’t know you know that. You strike up a friendly conversation. Maybe you just ask a question about something local, perhaps the parking situation outside the coffee shop or store you’re in.

The person might still be “off.” But I think your face-to-face experience would be very different and likely more positive than any experience contaminated by the environment of social media. 

Why is that?  McLuhan might say that it is because media — especially electronic media — take us out of our natural human context. Media environments set us up more easily for deception too, because they conceal parts of the big picture of whole human interaction.  For example, when someone’s on an audio phone call, they can roll their eyes without offending the listener no matter who it is. And people driving down the highway feel freer to honk (or worse) showing annoyance with other drivers. This is not news, of course. We treat people differently in environments that provide more anonymity than we do face to face.  Even simple written communication causes a lot of human context to get lost, including texting. We lose the big picture: mood, tone, eye contact, body language, nuances, true intent.

So it’s no wonder Twitter is such a cesspit.  There are no real rules of decorum and a lot of anonymity, which is a nasty combination. (Twitter’s censorship policies are, of course, purely political and not about maintaining any sort of decorum)

Anonymity can be a good thing, just as privacy is.  But anonymity does not make for the building of personal relationships.  Or community.  So the foresight going into 2020 is that a better world depends in large part on the health of our personal associations. Which in turn depends on more direct communication. A big key is to understand that loneliness — or fear of social rejection — is often the root of a lot of negative behavior in people.

Maybe you feel as much as I do that 2020 will be a pivotal year with some strong headwinds ahead. If so, one resolution might be to cut back on the digital stuff and increase more direct communication with others. And let’s all resolve to have a happy new year.

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