Cyberventing: Does the internet bring out the worst in us?

A couple of years ago I spent a very pleasant few days over New Year’s Eve at a conference in Monterey, California. One of the other speakers was my old friend, Coleman Barks, who most of us know for his brilliant, touching and soul-stirring translations of Rumi. We got to chatting over lunch one day, and he asked me in his thick, Georgia accent, “So what have you been up to lately, Arjuna?” This was pretty soon after I wrote an article for the Huffington Post called Why It’s Wise To Worship A Woman. It created a lot of buzz at the time but also got a deluge of very angry comments from men, muttering threats about a bullet with my name on it. When I told Coleman about the article and the reaction it inspired, he laughed out loud and said, “Oh you mean those little boxes below where people write things? Oh no,” said Coleman, with great passion, “Arjuna, don’t ever read those. You’ll never want to write again.” 

We laughed, but his comment has stuck with me since. 

It is true, is it not? If you post anything new or different in a public forum, whether YouTube, Huffington Post, or anywhere else, it tends to either get ignored or attacked. And not only that, pretty soon the people posting comments start to attack each other as well. 

In the winter of 2011, Gay Hendricks and I put a little video together, on a whim. It was based upon the personal regret we both felt about the way that women have been treated by men for thousands of years. Over many months, we had written a “Manifesto for Conscious Men” with about a dozen collaborators. Later we filmed it, on a close-to-zero budget, in an amateur way. We grabbed some people at Gay’s Christmas party, I asked some people in my men’s group, and finally we finished it off by asking random strangers to participate at our local grocery store. This video definitely had some flaws. It came across as a bit hippy, partially based on the geographical area where I live, and the combination of mushy violin music with our rather over-serious text turned some people off. 

But nobody could possibly have anticipated the fury it unleashed in men. We got more than 2000 comments calling us f**g*ts. Thousands of other comments read along the lines of “Spread your legs, bitch, then make me a sammich.” For those who did not assume us to be gay, thousands more comments assumed that this was a clever guise to “get laid” made by men who “never get any.”

Since then almost a million people have watched that video.  We finally switched off the comments, they were so endlessly awful that the fella approving them was feeling suicidal.   

 Since that time I have actually bumped into a few people who wrote some of those comments.  After they identified me as the guy in the “creepy video” and identified themselves as the writer of a very harsh comment,  we were laughing about it all within a few minutes. I agreed with many of their criticisms of the movie, and they agreed with the basic sentiment that women deserve to be treated with respect.

For thousands and thousands of years, the primary contact human beings have had with each other has been face-to-face. The telephone, television, movies, and now the internet (in its myriad incarnations), are all very recent inventions.  We are genetically wired not only to hear the words that people say, but also to take in their facial gestures, their body language, and to experience the other through interaction.   I would say that we are more likely to experience conflict and difference by passively listening to the words, and more likely to experience empathy and rapport in the nonverbal communication.  Of course video sites like YouTube do allow us to see facial gestures and body language, but I really do not know if it allows for the same level of empathy and report that you get in a face-to-face dialogue.

So what do you think? Has the enormous proliferation of communication over the internet without personal contact, and often without hearing a voice, without seeing the look in someone’s eyes, without noticing the way that they are breathing, has it actually brought out the worst in us?  

A lot of new words have been coined in the technology revolution. Words that I often do not understand: phishing, trolling, LOL, WTF.   Well now I have a new word to add to our vocabulary: Cybervent. 

 ~ Cybervent ~

To unleash a criticism or attack via a comment on the internet, frequently towards someone you know very little about.

 Someone who indulges in it is a cyberventer. The activity is cyberventing.  Let us see if we can help it to catch on, and coax each other out of our habits of assuming the worst in the writer of a blog post, or the maker of a video.

Here are some examples:

@ rageman,  Thanks for your cybervent, I am curious to know what you were already feeling  before you read the article and wrote those words. 

@madbitch, Hey, you raised some interesting points while cyberventing. I would love to hear also about the values that are meaningful to you, about the things that you support and believe in. 

@ deathstar, This is your tenth cybervent this week. For god’s sake bro, get some therapy and get a life.

You are welcome to appreciate, comment, disagree or just plain cybervent in the space below.

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One Response to “Cyberventing: Does the internet bring out the worst in us?”

  1. Tom Mays January 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm // Reply

    @Arjuna, Thank you for inspiring me to be a better man, a better partner to my girlfriend, a better visitor to this planet. You make a difference in my life. Namaste.

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