In "Regret Everything," comedian Will Hines gives a weekly update on the thoughts that are gnawing at his brain.
Last week, Hurricane Sandy caused massive damage, including big sections of New York and New Jersey. As people worked to help those without power, transportation and limited food, the New York Marathon was still scheduled to occur (though it was, ultimately, canceled). Canceling the marathon (50,000 runners plus supporters, crew) would not have been trivial, but holding such a huge event with its attendant police escorts and ambulances amidst a relief effort could seem insensitive. Regardless of your opinion, there was certainly no EASY solution.
But I'll tell you what you SHOULDN'T have done: post your thoughts on Facebook while shoving a scone in your face, which is what I did.
"What's the big deal about having a marathon? They won't prevent ConEd from getting power back, right?" I typed with one hand while I ate a massive breakfast at a coffee shop so hipstery that Lena Dunham would have told me chill out. Seventy-plus comments later, many of them huge bricks of text, I'd realized I'd been insensitive.
The responses to me were sympathetically not angry, but they were impassioned. Words used to describe the marathon included "inappropriate," "insensitive," "silly," "dumb." Statistics were cited of how many police would be diverted, descriptions of the damage in New York City, especially Staten Island, were laid out. Essays were typed. I had tapped into a for-real Hot Topic.
First of all, I felt like a dummy. As if I'd gone to a friend's house for Thanksgiving and opened up the conversation with, "So what's everyone here think about abortion?"
Second, it made me appreciate how many of our discussions these days happen on the Internet. Either in a Facebook thread, or an email conversation, or a hard-to-follow Tumblr-reblog.
And usually when they are about a sensitive topic, they go badly.
People get angry, they are insulting, they cite questionable and approximate statistics. They lock in to their opinions with a pre-emptively aggressive posture. They're so angry, you'd think they were driving.
In-person discussions are rarely so angry. Even just picking up the phone to address something typed can make each party remember that the other is an Actual Human Being.
I wonder if children who are growing up with Facebook will have the ability to project empathy into Internet discussions since they will be so familiar with them. Are we clumsy with new communication technology? Did people in the 1910s scream profanities into their phones? Actual first quote: "Watson, get you motherfucking ass in here! I need you and am scared!"
The other problem is that internet haters are fun. At the end of August, I sat in a bar and got drunk while losing at a pub quiz. The first day of the Republican National Convention was being broadcast. Drunk and frustrated at nothing in particular, I took out my iPhone and dropped an angry tweet without much thought: "It's ironic the party that opposes gay marriage sucks Ronald Reagan's dead dick so hard."
I agree with the sentiment, but not the unprovoked anger, of that tweet. However, I got over a hundred retweets and several private DMs from friends urging me to do more. I continued an angry diatribe of profane anti-Republican tweets and, honestly, I don't even care about politics. I gained 800 followers.
Haters gonna hate. Especially if the get LOVED for it.
Anyway, since the internet isn't going away. I hope we learn to be more human on it. I hope the people who are suffering in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are better soon. I am truly sorry for angry words I say in haste. And fuck Owl City for being such a dumb shit rip off of The Postal Service, that guy should be stretched out on a rack made out of the people who hurt dolphins.
Stock photo from shutterstock.com