Woke. Cancel. Gaslighting. The world is angry, seemingly louder by the day. The why is simple: Everyone has a microphone and instant access to Internet pulpits and megaphones. If the entire world has microphones, it stands to reason the volume will increase.
As common as those three words are as they take turns in today’s sun, most who hear and read them would fail a test to define what they mean. Nor would they be able to explain each one’s ignition system.
Woke is a Black term brought to the fore by people tired of societal oppression. The cancel culture is judgmental condemnation spewed by those who’ve boarded up their glass houses. Gaslighting involves emotional manipulation with intent to harm.
To understand the past, present, and future of these angry expressions, let’s look at where they came from. Then we will share why they exist and what the future likely holds. The Gorilla Glue adhering these things together is technology. Anyone with a smart phone can freely yell as loud, often, and angrily as he or she pleases hidden behind a fog bank of tech, which provides no governance or regulation.
Two generations back, audiences were earned by creating a message worth sharing as judged by traditional media outlets. These newspapers, TV, and radio stations were headed by overlords of fact. This traditionally hierarchy changed one generation back, in 2004, when the smartphone — specifically the iPhone 4 — changed how the world was able to communicate. The iPhone 4 did what every generation does: communication methods moved from old to new. Gone were the traditional seine nets that governed fact and fiction. Portholes into the mind exploded, opinions replaced news. No longer did anyone need to earn the right to rabble-rouse. People who were fed up could say it. And did. The genie, as they say, was out of the bottle, never to return.
The reason for this explosion of opinion ties to the fourth of Abraham Maslow’s five levels of self-actualization: the desire each of us has to be respected. When we are not, we emotionally react. The hunger for respect overlays two additional explainers:
- The principle of human behavior, and
- The four elements of effective communication: Sender, Receiver, Channel, and Message.
Tech has changed a lot of things but the principle of human behavior remains constant. What we think drives how we feel; but how we feel drives what we do. Core beliefs — our map of the world — are shaped during our formative years (zero-to-13). Once formed, they only change after we react to significant emotional events. These can be good or bad. Bad news travels faster than good, so when we are raised in a world of real or perceived bias, that bias is our truth. Given a microphone to express that anger, none of us can blame another for doing so. We might disagree and wish to discuss, but everyone has a microphone and everyone has a say.
Time and tech are bending and stretching the four elements of effective communication but they have not broken. The Sender universe has expanded to include everyone, Receivers are global, and Messages are more pointed and frequent (because transmission is simple, quick, and free) but the big change has come from Channel availability. Channels have changed and for that we can credit or blame tech. Digital reliance and addiction are hideous Godzilla-rising problems. Far more significant: for the first time keystrokers are the offspring of digital addicts.
In other words, the only lives these individuals and their parents have ever known is a digital one. Lost are the building blocks of societal civility — discourse, debate, and understanding — and in their places of “I’m right, you’re wrong, and you are inferior.” These communications are normal. They never lived in a world that communicated any other way.
The reason this creates the loud, growing populace deals with another behavioral truism: Once someone has formed an opinion about something, he or she rarely changes. Subsequent interactions seek reaffirming evidence, not contrary evidence. We do not seek or embrace things that challenge our map of the world as wrong. Anti-vaxxers are this way, gun control advocates are this way, defund the police (another term very few accurately understand) are this way, supremacists are this way, political party affiliations are this way. Rather than seek to understand more and judge less, noisemakers judge fast and yell loudly.
Now for the good news: This too will change. Every generation creates and embraces its own means of communication. Given this, so will the next and the one after that. Covid frustration will subside, emotion yielding from the panic stage to acceptance that microbes exist and — like it or not — are part of our new world moving forward. Rather than yelling at modern medicine’s expedition leaders cutting swaths through unknown jungles, emotion will subside toward logic. The pendulum will swing back toward civility, compassion, and brotherhood.
The trick is to hang in there until it does. Be nice, people. Nice is free.
Leave a Reply