Put simply, my time online - once useful and motivating - has turned akin to a psychic vampire.
I cannot get enough of surfing sites on publishing and writing, but ironically have reduced my writing output as a result.
The addiction to surfing interesting sites to the detriment of writing time is a topic that deserves its own post. Today though, I'm thinking of the impact that cyber bullying can have on one's online experience.
My often introverted self has lately made a push to participate in the active online communities and forums out there. But though my experiences online have been pretty positive, I've noticed a disquieting urge building in me to cater to the mood of others, to stay wary of inviting incidences of cyber bullying that have been popping up on the blogs and forums I enjoy the most.
I was reading a post recently on the effects witnessing/being involved in intances of cyber-bullying can have on online personalities. Natalie Whipple's post 'On Egg Shells' was a thought-provoking read. She seems to have a fun, witty and interesting take on life. That the negative atmosphere that sometimes builds online might inhibit her freedom of speech is a disturbing thought.
In such situations, every reader loses out because of the intense negativity of a few. Surely, this is an absurd and wasteful result of what should be the great, wonderful experiment that is the Internet.
The fact is, the greatest cities and civilisations are built on simple tenets of civility and freedom of speech coexisting. Without the reassurance of dialogue remaining civil, how can freedom of speech possibly rein strong?
I know that it seems like a contradiction in terms - to be free and civil. And yet, this is what prevents the greatest enemy to freedom from holding sway: self-censorship.
The pressure to conform can become intensely strong when one is alone in one's views, especially so when hordes of virtual (often anonymous) commentators decide to descend on one like starving vultures on a hapless piece of meat. I know this feeling well in reality, but to see situations disintegrate to farcical name-calling or malicious strings of hate-comments online... it kind of makes me angrier than I am when faced with a similar situation in real life.
My reaction's probably as strong as it is because I see the online world as one of greater freedom and liberation than anything previously seen in reality - and I can't quite mix online cruelty into this paradigm with any success.
Make no mistake, the Internet is a great, wandering civilisation of its own, one that's growing larger and more varied as days go by. And like all civilisations, it's annoyingly vulnerable to dark moments of persistent bullying, with negative voices clouding discussions instead of encouraging rich dialogue.
It would be a cruel joke though, wouldn't it, if the new and liberating frontier of the online world falls prey to negative traits that would inhibit the liberation it stood for to begin with?
But I'm hopeful that commentators will grow to see the value that being civil can get you, the validity it gives to posts and comments, and the progress a civilised discussion can bring to important issues that need such discussion.
Most of all, I'm hopeful that those of us who do believe in the value of civility will speak out loud and clear when a string of comments begins to degenerate into a hate-fest of absurd proportions.
Until the worlds online draw back from a 'Wild, Wild West' vibe though, and simply chill and enjoy the multitudes of voices that are now open for us to experience, I might just limit my online forays and invest more of my time on my greatest love: writing:) All with positive vibes upfront in my writerly mind:)
Happy writing (and reading) to all!:)