I Know Why The Caged Bird Tweets

By now, almost everyone knows the saga of Miko Morelos, care of the now-infamous Tweet posted by Tim Yap.  The other side of the story has been told, the apologies have been made, and now I guess it’s time to move on…

But like false reports of celebrities dying in pineapple plantations and calling wine “cheap” before foreign hosts in a state visit, I guess it’s right to stoke the fires of commensurate overreaction with commensurate overreaction…

Or maybe sappiness.

In a world where everything from an opinion to a bathroom break – and opinions about bathroom breaks – can be found in Twitter timelines, it’s safe to say that prudence runs a bit short on social media (or new media, whatever you want to call it).  The medium, in many ways, has provided anything but common sense.  Whenever instances like these happen, I often ask myself:

Is a sense of being human lost somewhere in social media?

By “being human,” I refer to the core of our relationships with people.  Values and virtues like trust, empathy, and care are things more associated with the human being in society than opposable thumbs and walking upright.  I don’t mean to be sappy or anything, but those are values and virtues that communication thrives on.  We trust in correct information disseminated by reputable sources.  We empathize with the plight of people in need, as much as they empathize with us when we’re downtrodden.  We care not only for our well-being, but those who are important to us.

Offline, we have more face-to-face interactions.  Our emotions, as well as our actions, are bound by the Other because of that directness brought by a very exposed, and a very vulnerable, face.  Emmanuel Levinas calls it “face:” we envisage a “who,” an Other.  The whole philosophy behind it puts it very beautifully: since we cannot escape the nakedness and exposure that there is in an encounter of faces, the Self is ultimately responsible for the Other.  Almost everything in our world that has something to do with face-to-face interaction is guided by some sort of responsibility: things like justice, love, charity, and so on.

Yet mediation – especially with something as ubiquitous, as common, and used extensively as social media – masks and obscures that naked and exposed face that there is in offline contact.  We no longer care much for friend or foe: it’s easier to ruin reputations without repercussion (amazing how online reputation management evolved to the level it’s in now) with a Twitter account, for example.  A few Tweets here, a few blog entries there, and poof: for the victim, it’s over.  There is no face online: just representations upon representations of representations of representations.

I’m not saying that anything wrong should be let go and forgiven and forgotten immediately in the name of peace and harmony.  After all, what’s online is merely guided by what’s offline (but I’m still banking on the idea that perhaps we’ve lost some of our humanity and empathy in the real world as well).  Mistakes are not easily forgiven and forgotten, and in many ways we learn by having others point out mistakes to us.  Somehow, in a quite sappy way, I’m looking for heart in all the rage (figuratively and literally).

Online, we’re often not exposed to identities which aren’t ourselves, because everything is virtually the same.  It’s just another persona, something artificial, man-made, temporary, incapable of things like hunger and humiliation.  A user merely vanishes, the account deleted.  When we heckle it we do not see it suffer like a malnourished child on the street.  When we shame it, we do not see it ashamed like the class dunce.  It’s there, or it isn’t there.  There is no trust, there is no empathy, there is no care.  I don’t want to believe that completely just yet.  There are signs of virtue and value, like… Twibbons.  Or very personal emails, outside of 411s.

I question where the things that make us human are, in this brave new world of hashtags and @ references.  Is our recognition of face somewhat distorted by the hats we put on as we re-create ourselves online?

Is it real?  It definitely is.  Is it human?  That, I think, is something I need to chew on.

* – Image sourced from Speechstarter.  Apologies to Maya Angelou.

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