Is the Web Developing an Intolerance to Difference?

NO NAME FUTUREIt seems almost a daily occurrence there is some online crusade launched against a notable individual, or a company, who has committed the cardinal sin of publicly stating an opinion. This grundyism transpires despite the torrent of anonymous – and often venomous – commentators that tread en masse through the social web. The response, it is easy to see, has been a LEVELLING of discourse, the neutralization of anything controversial, or even potentially alienating.

Here lies one of the ironies of globalization: Being thrust into a literal webwork of particular individuals with different, and ambiguous, morals and ethical systems, has left us intolerant, and in search of relief through the acceptance of a universal discourse that is painfully unambiguous.

One would have expected the (virtual) co-mingling of people from across the planet to have left us more accepting and tolerant of the world’s differences, but it has, really, left us with an intolerance to difference. Perhaps it’s akin to food intolerance, which one can develop by consuming too much of the food in question? Too much difference, confronting us too quickly? Or consider the conservatism of the late 1970s-1980s as a kind of reactionary scorning of the lightning fast excesses of the sexual revolution?

“[L]eveling is abstraction conquering individuality” – Søren Kierkegaard

BLANDThere is now an explosion of books and courses for business people dedicated to the preparation of bland content, so as not to send readers (customers) into post-globalized cramps of irate intolerance. In an age that prides itself on so-called personal expression, the producers of content are now trained in the art of creating content to be consumed by the abstract ‘Consumer’, as opposed to particular individuals.

Users harangue celebrities and corporations for demonstrating any indication of difference, any semblance of humanity. It’s as if we are disappointed to find the stirrings of difference in the sterile, safe room, that the internet is increasingly becoming. In this safe room, it is permissive to Tweet ad nauseum, provided you agree to – at the end of the day – say very little.

“[A]n insensitivity to all distinctions in level and genuineness … opens up a standard world in which all distinctions between the unique and the general, the superior and the average, the important and the trivial have been leveled.” – Martin Heidegger

digestive cookieOne could argue that we’ve squandered a chance to welcome otherness, and have closed down a space for difference, but I can’t be so naive. What has happened is – to this reader of the psychologist Ernest Becker – unsurprising. To reach as many radically different eyeballs as possible – the raison d’etre of the Web – you must create a space as risk-free as possible, a kind of play-pen where you speak in a generic idiom.  Have you ever noticed how plastic, and inhuman, so many of the Tweets sound that emerge from ‘verified’ official accounts? Sometimes I wonder who – aside from employees and their friends – is actually liking and retweeting these bland little digestive biscuits. We have become so fearful or saying anything – and risking the ire of somebody out there – that we are voraciously gobbling down a type of universally applicable speech that says nothing.


~ by dccohen on March 4, 2013.

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