Some of you reading this blog may struggle to understand much of its content; if so please refer any questions to a teenager!! As most of you are aware, I am something of a techno-dinosaur, I manage to use the basics of social media but I really don’t have a clue how it all works. It’s not just the ‘how’ it’s also the ‘why’. Sometimes I really cannot comprehend how anyone would have any interest whatsoever in what design the barista might make on top of my cappuccino (see, I’m losing some of you already!). One of the earliest phenomena to hit the internet was the ‘meme’. Having checked the online edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, I can confirm that a meme is ‘an image, video, piece of text etc, typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations’. (Say what now? – take a moment, read that explanation again, scratch your head, and look at this picture, it literally speaks a thousand words).
The closest I can get to finding an equivalent example from my (sometimes thankfully) technology free childhood is the word caricature. A caricature is a sketch portrait which while capturing the essential features of the person without filling in the key details. (You have to be impressed that I came up with that definition myself at 5.45am!!). In other words, a meme is an outline of one aspect of an person or situation which is shared for comedic effect. And some of them are brilliant!
But even before the internet was a mere twinkle in its founders’ eye, there was a key flaw in the concept of memes (and caricatures), they allow the viewer to detach from the reality that what they are looking at (and laughing at) is actually based on a real person, with real feelings and real fragility. The subjects of many of the earliest memes suffered untold damage from the image going viral. I remember a friend of mine suffered a serious injury when she inadvertently walked under a carpark barrier as it was descending. She spent a few days in hospital with quite serious damage to the top of her head. When she got home, one of her child’s friends came to visit her, but when he saw her, he burst out laughing, hysterically. Finally she asked him to leave as he was really upsetting her. An hour later he came back, incredibly embarrassed, to apologise. He explained that when he saw her, all he could see was her experience played out like one of the videos on ‘You’ve been Framed’. This is one of the key problems of much of social media, it depersonalises people and desensitises us to the value and worth of the individual. While memes can become a serious example of this, most don’t; but the incredibly alarming rise in cyber bullying and trolling finds its roots in the same desensitization and depersonalisation. It is all to easy to sit on our couch and literally destroy another person with a few clicks of a keypad. So much damage had been done by those who later claim ‘it was a joke!’; as families are destroyed by the fatal consequences of the so-called ‘keyboard warriors’ flawed sense of humour. Cyber bullying and trolling are reaching pandemic proportions, just read the comments of some of the local and political online forums and you will soon be sickened by how quickly hate and vitriol enter the conversation.
The key problem is, we as a society have stopped looking at others as fellow human beings with sensitive feeling and vulnerable personalities. For every celebrity who fatally succumbs to such abuse, there are literally tens of thousands of young people who can no longer cope with the cruelty and deliberate destruction of others, some are people whey would have once considered friends. Too many families ‘celebrate’ significant milestones of their children’s lives at gravesides. And while some efforts seem to be emerging from social media companies that are literally tech-giants: it seems to be impossible to control or moderate successfully. Listening to a conversation on the radio recently about cyber bullying and trolling, there was an awareness that even the perpetrators are themselves victims of this who mess (this in no way excuses their behaviour btw (by the way)).
One victim realised that when he rather cleverly challenged the person who made spurious and awful allegations against him, that there was a real danger that those who could read his response would turn on the troll and potentially destroy them. Another contributor said that one of the reasons that she didn’t respond was because she could picture a pathetic confused teenager isolated in her bedroom, emotionally and physically detached from the value of others and quite simply lashing out from her own brokenness. Incredibly kind responses and awareness but still such an awful mess.
We can’t leave it to the tech giants or cyber communities to sort this out. We as a real and present community need to gently, lovingly and firmly teach our children (and their children) to look beyond the meme. To see beyond the caricature, to the real, valuable and incredibly unique human being that is receiving their vile ‘jokey’ comments and hate. We and they must see the person, not the meme.
If you or a family member have been affected by the contents of this blog, please do not suffer alone. Contact me, but more importantly contact one of the following support agencies:
One of the reasons I constantly speak and write about how much God loves us, is because I really believe there has never been a time in all human history when we need to hear and own this simple truth. Everything and everyone around us may seek to undermine us, to devalue and dehumanise us, but they are wrong. You are worth living for, you are so much more than a meme!