#TroubleBrewing

Seems mighty tempting at times.

There’s a growing sentiment that tech companies are spiraling out of control these days.
There’s even a hashtag expressing the sentiment: #techlash.

Facebook is being questioned around the world for its role in sowing electoral discontent and losing control of  its user’s personal data. As a result, its stock has tumbled this week.
Twitter has been assailed for bullying and misogyny and Google and YouTube have had to answer questions about questionable search results and ads from less than savory groups populating it’s platforms.
It’s enough to make you want to live off the grid like my old commission teammate and dear friend Bob Costin.

At way over 6 feet tall we called Bob the “high commissioner” and often joked that he violated Delray’s strict height limits.
Bob was a wonderful commissioner with a terrific sense of humor but he and the Internet weren’t acquainted.

He didn’t have email, didn’t read documents online and if you wanted to talk to him you had to do it the old fashioned way: call him or visit his table at the old Green Owl.
He was there most mornings by 10 a.m.
Ahh..the good old days.
But my point is during my time in office 2000-07, if you wanted to vent you had to email, call or make an appointment.

Prior commissions—pre email—would eagerly await snail mail from their neighbors; so if you wanted to opine you had to write a letter, find an envelope, buy a stamp and look up an address before you could put your thoughts in front your mayor or commissioner.

Today, we have Facebook and other social media platforms where a robust debate rages 24-7 and city politics are a hot topic.

There’s no filter. No fact checkers. No obligation at all to be civil– short of threatening bodily harm which may get you booted—eventually.
It’s changed the game.

As  a result, lots of people don’t want to subject themselves to the abuse, bullying, misinformation and vitriol shelled out by a wide variety of charmers and so they don’t participate in local politics.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have rarely if ever visited most local Facebook pages devoted to Delray politics and recently opted out of one page I was a “member” of. I won’t judge those who indulge, I just don’t want to.

If the platforms featured intelligent debate, I might feel differently.

But what I saw during the recent election cycle was something less than intelligent or interesting.

What did I see?  Anger, division, polarization, innuendo, lies, attacks, hatred.
We should be better than this.
We need to be better than this.
Truth be told, I saw some kindness too. But the ratio of mean to nice is not even close.
And so I’m out.

I will continue to enjoy Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In for other things such as sharing pictures of my dogs and birds, promoting local causes and businesses that I like, reading and sharing interesting articles and staying in touch with old friends, favorite teachers and distant relatives.

As for my old friend Bob Costin: he called me in the days leading up to the election blissfully unaware of the toxicity on the Internet.
He’s still not online. He still doesn’t have email.

And he still uses his favorite line when asked why: “my modem is down” before breaking into a laugh I’ve grown to love and cherish.
But despite Bob’s conscious decision to keep his modem on ice, he’s very much rooted in modern life. He’s up on the news (through newspapers), embraces change and is always fun and interesting to talk to.
He was a progressive commissioner back in the day, open to new ideas and had a few of his own as well.

He told me no candidate contacted him before the election. He wasn’t complaining just stating a fact.

But I thought to myself ‘what a shame’ because Bob has so much to share.
And it made me think that at least locally, we ought to make an effort to connect face to face.

We used to have town hall meetings, charettes, neighborhood dinners, community visioning sessions, citizen goal setting workshops and even roasts.
These are the things that build community.

This is why efforts such as WiseTribe, Creative Mornings, Old School Square, Chambers of Commerce, festivals, green markets and pet parades are so important.
It’s harder to demonize someone standing in front of you. It’s easy to do so online.

And if you can’t demonize someone you may find that there is common ground amidst the very real differences. Or at the very least, we may realize that those differences are heartfelt and honest –rooted in beliefs  sincerely held.

Social media has its place. But when it starts to erode community and humanity, count me out.
I think I will stick to pictures of my dogs sleeping and videos of my birds singing.
It feels a whole lot safer this way.

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