Distance and time separate the events that have made Monica Lewinsky’s name a well known one…or apparently at least in those that are over the age of 25. In her TED talk Lewinsky talks about the new way, the internet, in which her unfortunate situation was made public. The difference between the traditional method of sharing would have most likely been newspaper, or print. Lewinsky talks about the culture of shame and the commodification of other peoples suffering. This is not new territory for humanity. We have been apt a shaming people from the medieval era and through the many dark a dreary years between then and now (think stocks, and public flogging). We have in fact been shaming and marginalizing individuals, races, and lifestyles for a long, long time. We have just become substantially more efficient at it. Lewinsky doesn’t dwell on the causes or the why does this happen, instead she focuses on the ideas of empathy and a proposed direction, via empathy, that we could begin to turn this behavior around. A great idea, but history suggests that the problem does not lie in the medium we use to ridicule, whether it be a rotten tomato, or a Tweet, the result is the same. A target, distance and a very short period of time, and a lot of people supporting your opinion.
I recall a quote from Hannah Arendt that I read a couple of classes ago. in it she suggests that there is a difference between ‘opinion and mood’. I think that this idea is valid to this discussion as we no longer seem to mull over our thoughts, to develop our opinions. Rather we react and generate moods, that are temporary and fleeting. A text read before bed, or at the start of a particularly trying day will illicit a very different response than one considered and reflected upon. As Jon Ronson suggested in his video we have knee jerk reactions to what under most circumstances would be an off colour remark, or perhaps even something that is taken out of context. The result is a long term ‘mob mentality’ that creates an online environment that at the least condones hostile behaviour and at the worst forms it. One individual in the ‘digital crowd’ throws a tomato and we are suddenly in Bunol Spain!
The skills needed to take back the internet or as Lewinsky states exercise minority influence, really are not so different from those needed to navigate IRL. The only real difference is the media. For me the Jason Ohler article seems to really hit home with the root problems of current digital controversy, namely the need for effective character education, in all environments not just socially or digitally but all facets of our life. The ‘one life’ model seems to make more sense than does the management of a dual reality, especially for kids.
Do the 9 elements of digital citizenship outlined by Ribble really apply solely to the digital environment? Or do these apply to all environments we and our students frequent? Obviously the range and exposure of our reach and our voice has changed and continues to change, and this will undoubtedly continue. Regardless of the range, speed or ease of access of our interconnected nature if we teach our kids, as Lewinsky identified, to treat each other with both empathy and understanding, many of the social challenges of the web would be alleviated. Strange that her voice had to go ‘underground’ for so long before being heard… and I think it would be worse today.
Of course this is a battle that has been waged on the playgound for generations. Perhaps the very thing that makes the internet an open market for hostility, anonymity, will allow the voices of empathy and understanding to gain power and momentum.
Or, we could limit peoples internet connection to match how far they could throw a tomato?