Robin Smith / April 12, 2021

How Technology Can Breed Toxic Culture

There are many advantages to modern tech, but we must overcome the lost personal element.

Today’s “progressive” culture is inhibiting our ability to communicate, settle conflict, collaborate, and coexist, in large part because our exchanges are without personal contact. Most of our communication now is mediated through a device — our phones or computers — by way of social media, texts, emails, or television. Audiences are depersonalized and isolation is fostered as we transmit information in an uninterrupted monologue with little accountability or cost. People now operate in isolation, find an echo chamber of opinion to join, and live unchallenged. Profiles and emojis replace true human interaction and emotion, destroying nonverbal cues and creating an environment that can ultimately be rude and hateful. It’s the new normal.

We have come a long way from Gutenberg’s printing press, and we have so many unprecedented opportunities for good. But we’ve created a self-focused communications mess. The risk-free commentator often has no direct involvement or proximity to a situation or problem. Offering comment from afar is safe, easy, and cheap — plus there’s no cost to the one making the post or writing his soliloquy, even though it sometimes impacts another’s community or life.

Think about all the celebrity opinions demanding gun control, defunding police, or opening borders, offered from homes within gated communities with layers of security that average Americans will never have. But for the average person, the same tone, word choice, or frequency of rebuttal would almost never happen in person as it does in angry comments on Twitter or Facebook. The stalking and swarming of angry dissenters on social media would be treated as assault if done face-to-face instead of online.

Passionate, distant, and safe commentators now have the ability to mobilize and incite individuals with information without the element of time to permit verification and validation through sourcing. Today, real-time information is available with little to no context. This permits those who control the methods of mass communications, such as cable news networks and Big Tech, to frame events rather than report them.

The sad end result of these impersonal social media communications is a divisive and destructive hatred shown through bitterness, contempt, and prejudice. In research entitled “Why We Hate,” authors from faculty of the University of Amsterdam, the University of Haifa, Israel, and the University of Leuven, Belgium, noted that hate is “especially significant at the intergroup level” and is “part of a self-defense system” used by the group to protect its identity and power. Weak leaders, however, employ hatred to mobilize when inspiration is outside their skill set or the ease of fueling anger is too tempting and routine. A long time ago, a very wise man reminded us, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”

Whether it’s research at Harvard or work done by Pew Research and Elon University, individual well-being includes personal communications and relationships. A thriving community is based on physical social interactions rooted in mutual respect, direct interactions, and exchanges and shared values formed from experiences.

Bill Gates once opined that the first rule of technology is that it will magnify efficiencies. The second rule is that it will equally magnify the inefficiencies. Today, those who employ high-tech communications along with personal engagement to bridge the divide are the ones who excel. Sadly, without the personal element, we’re witnessing that same tech dividing us and expanding isolation.

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