“So of course we discover that achieving Earthseed’s Destiny, despite Lauren Olamina’s dreams, hasn’t solved the problem of the human at all, only extended our confrontation with the very difficult problems that drove its development in the first place — only removed them to some other world where they can take some other form. The Destiny was essentially a hyperbolic delaying tactic, a strategy of avoidance; even achieved, it’s worthless in its own terms. The fundamental problem is still how to make a better world with such bad building blocks as human beings.”
They told us the Internet would become an echo chamber. They didn’t tell us how deafening the echoes would be when everyone started screaming. Like the unstoppable screech of feedback from a microphone. Lately when I open Twitter, that’s the sound I hear. It gives me stomach cramps and makes me want to give everything up and go work on a farm with no Internet connection.
The Internet has recently imploded into a discussion about the oppression and abuse of women, in technology and elsewhere. And yet we are not having a discussion. So often, most of us are just talking, in one direction, not listening, not responding. I’m not on Facebook anymore, but Twitter, and more specifically the “retweet” or re-post function on many social media, seems to be making this one-way communication worse.
The field of communications long ago identified a phenomenon known as Mean World Syndrome. It’s what happens when the news constantly emphasizes violence and crime — as it has always tended to, because that’s what holds people’s attention and sells copies of papers or advertising. You hear awful things are happening other places, over and over. It begins to seem as if these awful things are more likely to happen than they actually are. It’s why white people from majority-white communities are terrified that black people will do them violence: that’s all the news gives them to think about, when it comes to black people. It’s why homeschooling is on the rise: parents are sure school shootings happen all the time. People who develop Mean World Syndrome view the world as more dangerous than it actually is.
In the race, class, and gender work going on on Twitter and other social media, I am sure there are people who are coming to understand oppression for the first time because of tags like #YesAllWomen. And there are also people speaking out against their oppression for the first time, and feeling better for having done it. But are we also in the process of breeding a new strain of Mean World Syndrome? A particularly insidious one, where it’s not media corporations constantly exclaiming about how awful things are, but regular people? I can’t be sure we aren’t.