The other day I was stopped at an intersection, looking both ways as I’ve been told to do, when a woman in the car behind me started honking repeatedly to encourage me to take the plunge.
By Annabel Monaghan
The other day I was stopped at an intersection, looking both ways as I’ve been told to do, when a woman in the car behind me started honking repeatedly to encourage me to take the plunge. I wasn’t in the mood for a fiery death, so I waited for the traffic to clear in both directions before proceeding. The honking went on and on, and the sound of it just kind of got to me. So, I put down my window and made the appropriate gesture with my hand.
You don’t see that particular gesture as much as you used to. It was kind of an old-fashioned thing to do. Nowadays we don’t show our anger to people in person as much as we do online. An alternative to the gesture was to take my beef to the Internet and publically call this person out, identifying her by the make and color of her car. Believe me, I thought about it. That’s new-fashioned anger and I suspect there’s plenty of it to go around.
People seem to be channeling their unexpressed rage online. I’ve had death threats and worse over articles that I’ve written about housework. I don’t mean hot issues like house building, I mean like doing the laundry. It’s as if people are sitting in their homes, fuming from just having been honked at, and waiting for someone to let loose on. The general rule is that you’re not supposed to respond to this stuff to keep it from escalating. But it ends up feeling like an excessive amount of turning the other cheek.
I wrote an article a while back about how, in a world where we take so many photos of our kids, maybe we don’t need that awkward school photo anymore. You might disagree. You might love that school photo. I’ve even had a couple that I’ve loved. Either way, this isn’t exactly an emotionally loaded issue. Here’s a comment that I got from a stranger online: “How dare you say this about school photos! This is so disrespectful to our troops!” It was if my Internet persona got caught in the crossfire of a totally different argument.
I find this fascinating, and sometimes I’ll skim through an article online just to read the comments section. I skimmed an article about commonly misused words, and the first comment was “When people confuse “their” with “there” it makes me want to punch them in the throat.”
Can we all just take a deep breath? How many people in the world would ever really consider punching someone in the throat? There’s untold damage to be had to the windpipe, not to mention the likely embarrassment of missing and smacking someone in the chin. You’d actually have to ask the person to stand still and tilt their (there?) chin up just to get a good shot — and all this over a couple of homophones.
Which is what makes me wonder if people are angrier than they used to be. Did we used to just keep all this stuff inside and chain smoke to cope? Did we used to pace and mutter under our breath more? The Internet seems like a place to blow off a little steam, with the side benefit of sort of egging each other on. It’s fairly anonymous, like screaming from the top of the Alps. You might feel better and who’s going to hear you?
Because the objects of our anger are not real people. They are just little thumbnail sized photos, one dimensional and ever smiling. We don’t see our threats and comments reflected back to us in their reactions. Words have an energy to them, and if you don’t see the effect of your words it can lead to an imbalance. I’m not a huge Kardashian fan, but when I see legions of people declare that they should be shot, it gives me pause. I dislike plenty of people but none who I’d like to see shot. In person, isn’t it against the law to say you’re going to shoot someone? On the Internet it’s a colloquialism.
I wonder if a little more face to face (or hand-to-hand) communication would help people let a off a little steam and cool the internet down a little. Plus the added benefit of the hand gesture is that you get to feel the appropriate amount of shame for having used it.