I love Roger Scruton. He always puts his finger precisely on the problems with social media.
In human relations, risk avoidance means the avoidance of accountability, the refusal to stand judged in another’s eyes, the refusal to come face to face with another person, to give oneself in whatever measure to him or her, and so to run the risk of rejection. Accountability is not something we should avoid; it is something we need to learn. Without it we can never acquire either the capacity to love or the virtue of justice. Other people will remain for us merely complex devices, to be negotiated in the way that animals are negotiated, for our own advantage and without opening the possibility of mutual judgment. Justice is the ability to see the other as having a claim on you, as being a free subject just as you are, and as demanding your accountability. To acquire this virtue you must learn the habit of face-to-face encounters, in which you solicit the other’s consent and cooperation rather than imposing your will. The retreat behind the screen is a way of retaining control over the encounter, while minimizing the need to acknowledge the other’s point of view. It involves setting your will outside yourself, as a feature of virtual reality, while not risking it as it must be risked, if others are truly to be encountered. To encounter another person in his freedom is to acknowledge his sovereignty and his right: it is to recognize that the developing situation is no longer within your exclusive control, but that you are caught up by it, made real and accountable in the other’s eyes by the same considerations that make him real and accountable in yours.
Now, I love this quote precisely because it serves to explain the dynamics of real relationships and not necessarily explanatory of the social media we hide behind through our computers. But since Scruton brings it up, there is a sense where we can say safe in our homes and “engage” virtually and remain safe. I think it’s a result of over-information in every area of our lives. We suffer from a decided lack of innocence and faith in our fellow beings because we are now completely aware of what people can do to each other, all in vivid colorful and gory detail. I think it’s even more prominent after events like 9/11.
We don’t like the vulnerability of face to face encounters because it can always go quickly very wrong. People can very easily hide themselves in virtual space, quite unlike meeting someone at the corner pub. Remember meeting someone in person for the first time and the sense you just get if this person is trustworthy or not or suspicious or not? That can’t happen in the virtual world because we only have what words are emotionless as they are typed from the other end of cyberspace. I find that it is very much easier for me to communicate with someone through a computer screen or through an email than it is in person. And perhaps half of it is the visual prejudices we have for people. On the internet you cannot be seen and judged immediately as stupid because your fat, or ugly because you aren’t symmetrically beautiful according to movie standards. For once, we can be taken on our ideas alone and it’s revolutionary, but like anything, we can take it too far and use it exclusively to withdraw from society. Not a good idea. What think you?