Quiet in the Streets, but a King on the Web: Society’s False Bravado

Posted October 18, 2015

A funny thing happened on the way to modern technology giving every citizen a voice: we became silent in our every day lives.

As instances of cyber bullying, internet trolling, and general online douchebaggery continue to gain our attention, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we, as a society, are becoming more introverted and closed off in our real lives (or IRL, as the kids say).

Given the freedom to say whatever we want behind a screen or a phone, we seem more inclined to keep our mouths shut when people can actually see the words coming out of them. I think I’ve kind of known this for a while, but the idea really took hold for me this Thursday after my commute to school.

At about 8am on a crowded 6 train, a young, black male (about mid 20s) pushed his way onto the train and slumped into a seat. With his phone pressed to his hear, he started blaring Eminem and mouthing along to the words (an image that could make for an article in itself). The entire train car turned to look at him as the bass from the song and the aggressive nature of the lyrics wafted through the car.

I tried not to pay attention, but I definitely heard something about eating dicks like sausages and your standard Eminem “motherfuckers” and “cocksuckers.” Typical of your morning commute to work.

While everybody was getting frustrated that the standards of decency were being clearly ignored, nobody said anything. There wasn’t even a plea to lower it for the sake of the kids on the train. Passengers rolled their eyes. They grinned mockingly at their nearby peers. They scoffed and guffawed, but nobody actually said anything to this guy. Myself included.

I couldn’t help but wonder why everybody was so ready to endure this for 10 minutes, or longer for those who remained on the train after I got off.

A few quick possibilities came to mind. With ongoing political conflicts surrounding racial insensitivity and protests seeming to pop up every day regarding the unfair treatment of black Americans by their, usually, older white compatriots, we’ve entered a time period of extreme racial tension in this country. It was plausible that the mainly older white passengers on the train didn’t want to engage in a conversation that could been seen as accusatory or could open themselves up to a violent response from a potentially angry black male.

It’s also possible that, given the manic look in this guy’s eyes and the propensity for recent violent attacks being attributed to mental instability, nobody wanted to engage a person who could be on the edge of snapping at any instant.

Or maybe, like me, they simple figured that enduring ten minutes of annoyance was a better idea than starting their day off with a potentially inflammatory situation or antagonistic conversation.

A pleasant morning apparently wasn’t worth fighting for.

However, I can’t help but notice the contrast between these real life situations and the ones we find ourselves in online. We can be set off on vicious rants by people’s Facebook posts or tweets, but none of the 40-plus people in that car were willing to speak up, even politely, to a person who was legitimately polluting a shared space.

If we had all been Twitter users and he had simply tweeted out the lyrics to the song or made a derogatory comment about a race or gender, how many of those people would have attacked or reprimanded him from their virtual fortress?

When we think of the reality of that answer, we should immediately identify a problem. Yes, we’re in a time of extreme societal tension.  Yes, the prevalence of gun violence in this country casts a shadow over any aggressive conversation. Yes, we’re being given a multitude of ways to share our thoughts and feelings, but these shouldn’t prevent us from speaking up for ourselves or protecting our well-being during our everyday lives. What’s the good of silently enduring life only to bitch and moan about it online?

Even for those of us who simply think we’re avoiding hassle, aren’t we also training ourselves to silently put up with breaks in moral decency that we shouldn’t have to? Like everything that gets bottled up inside, when we finally let it out, it explodes in harmful and uncontrollable ways. Instead of politely and addressing situations one at a time, we allow them to rise to a boiling point and reveal themselves in ways that are never constructive.

It may take weeks. It may take months, but it’s time that we, as a society, start caring more about protecting the lives we’re living in real life and less about those we’ve created  online.