Maybe You’re Not an Asshole
2022. As I browse social media on day two of this new year, I can’t help but think it already feels like 2020: Act 3. I reviewed a few new year memes that people are sharing. Some are funny, but always, they paint a dreadful picture of the poor, miserable state of our society. I checked out a few of the most viral videos from various sites.
I watched plenty of Karen’s raging over perceived slights. I saw hate groups harassing schools over masks and CRT, restaurant employees getting punched over long lines, road ragers shooting at people for the slightest offense, flash mob thefts, and outlandish twerking in convenience stores.
Slowly, I felt the anticipation of a fresh start fading, replaced by the existential dread many of us have felt over the past two years, from both Covid and humanity. I almost concluded we are so messed up, we’ll never be normal and sane again…
But Is it True?
Are we so messed up? Something nagged at me about the conclusion I was forming; a bit of hope held the full dread at bay. I am not a fan of unanswered questions, so I decided to explore the nagging and challenge my assumptions.
First, I watched Tik-Tok, YT, FB, and Instagram’s top 10 viral videos of 2021.
Next, I read the most viewed articles from sources like Buzzfeed and NYT. Surprisingly, I found the top viral videos and stories were for GOOD stuff; funny actions or random acts of kindness, and videos of our crazy pets.
Then I compared this with my reality — how did life look in the world as I go about my daily life? How did my public interactions play out when I traveled, while I’m at the grocery store, or in restaurants? Turns out, my experiences were pretty damn normal; as in pre-2020 normal. I couldn’t think of any overtly negative situation with anyone! (I bet your real life doesn’t mirror social media any more than mine)!
Finally, I polled some friends and asked about their experiences. Several had some sketchy encounters with a few terrible people, yet it was not enough to consider life worse. (They credited a handful of deranged members of Congress for creating most of the drama, but that’s another post).
We Are Mostly Nice People
It seems that despite what we see on social media, we are not all assholes! Most of us are not murdering our neighbors over political signs in their yards or attempting to zip-tie our children’s principals. Most of us are not coughing on produce, attacking airline associates, or armed like a cosplay character from Call of Duty, to pick up our Subway sandwich.
We ARE still holding the door for others. We are letting people cut in traffic. We are patient with stressed-out Wendy’s employees. What this tells me is while there are real victims of real assholes, we aren’t quite in as much trouble as the internet would lead us to believe.
How Did We Get Here?
I think it is the double-edged sword of algorithms and cookies, plus a media machine that writes or allows anything for clicks.
What Can We Do?
Understand that algorithms trap us in echo chambers with like-minded people (which may feel supportive but limits viewpoints). They also show us information that supports whatever we believe, whether those beliefs or the information, is based on fact or fiction. Make it harder for the code to assume your interests by actively seeking varied sources for stories, interests, facts, and quality opinion pieces.
While we’re at it, let’s stop auto-accepting the cookies that feed us an overdose of any topic we search online. One simple curiosity and the Google’y engines weave their vines and pile that topic into our every feed, further pigeonholing our online experience.
Take the time to manage cookies, giving only the minimum permissions to new sites you visit. Make good use of your anti-virus software & run updates to help keep your systems protected from cookie over-reach.
Social media skewers our perception by painting pictures of a sliver as the whole, which allows us to justify being dicks (myself included) and thinking poorly of each other for no reason.
This year, let’s worry less about our society’s demise and do more to notice that it’s still filled with good, while we work to make it better. A resolution idea: try to remember that reality assures us that we are not all assholes and there’s no reason to treat each other as such.
May you all have a thoughtful year filled with goodness and adventure, come what may!