Friday, March 14, 2014

Every Dumb Thought In Your Head

Many people who consider themselves well-adjusted, upstanding members of their community turn into hateful, foul-mouthed demons when they drive in stressful conditions. I have shouted things from my car window I would never say directly to the driver of another vehicle if we were face to face. I guess when we are in our cars, we feel a level of security, and maybe we feel like we're in our own world and everything outside of our vehicle is a faceless, soul-less outer world that is trying to stop us from getting to where we're trying to go. We lack empathy for others that would typically hit us if we ran into all of the same people on the sidewalk.

I think if you take this same concept to the next level of detachment, appalling things you read online should be less surprising. Convenience, lack of personal accountability and zero consideration for others help fuel reactionary emotion-driven comments, status updates, blogs and tweets. I think we are all guilty of this...I know I am. I'm also guilty of being personally outraged and offended on the other side of the things I read. It is really easy to forget that all this (I'm virtually pointing everywhere) isn't real and that I should calm the fuck down. We all should sometimes. A mantra I have been working on when I jump online is, "Not every dumb thought in your head needs to be dumped into cyberspace." While using the c-word makes me sound as old as I am, it's still worth remembering.

All this comes from the past 24 hours of witnessing all kinds of statements made on Facebook in regards to the incident that occurred at SXSW resulting in 2 deaths and dozens of injuries. Being a night owl and having way too much time on my hands, I watched status updates and comments roll out all night. Most of my friends were trying to find out more information and to see if everybody they knew was okay. It made me think about watching my coworkers at Apple Computer back in 2001 trying to get a hold of friends and family in New York through e-mail and phone that September morning.

And then a few hours later, some people lost their fucking minds. It started with a tasteless "joke" made by a guy I had been meaning to unfriend at least he reminded me that he sucked. That was followed up with waves of over-the-top hate once the suspect's identity was revealed. More bad jokes. References to the suspect (who is black) being a thug (the term white people use for young black guys that they think is not racist but I'm fairly sure is). More attempts at humor. Calls for the suspect's death, sans trial by jury.

Not every dumb thought in your head needs to be dumped into cyberspace.

Then there were multiple posts of an "article" titled "Top 10 Facts You Need To Know" (about the suspect), including how many children he has and that he is an aspiring music producer, complete with links to audio samples. Great, that's what we need... a virtual "This Is Your Life" with Austin's newly most hated person. Bang up job using the Internet to fuel the fire, guys. Spot on. "Step right up, see the Hitler of the week...stare into the face of evil and listen to some of his music tracks we pulled from Soundcloud! Listen to the sound of evil...and evil has too many children, let's all talk about that at length!"

I made a wise decision to not respond to anything I read, avoid Facebook for the rest of the day and go to work...because, you know...dumb thought upload thingy. Plus, 8+ hours of dishwashing allowed me to think about this for a bit.

While some jokes made were done by aspiring comedians who mistakenly think they're edgy (they're not, they're just awful), I think most of them come from the same place that people's condolences come from. I saw several status updates by friends stating their thoughts and prayers were going out to the people involved, even though these updates can only be read by their friends and will probably not be seen by anyone directly affected by this tragedy. Why do we do either of these? I've made reactionary jokes or offered condolences without really given a thought as to why, other than both are a way of coping with a tragic event to avoid feeling helpless. And maybe that's all it is. An incident generates uncontrollable feelings and emotions, and your defense is humor...or you feel you've got to do "something." "I'm not sure what I can do...I'll say something on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe I'll blog about it." (Wait, is that what I'm doing?)

There IS something else you can do about this tragedy besides make a joke or vocalize how much you want the guy who did this to die. There's something else you can offer besides well wishes and prayers. You can donate blood. The Blood Center of Central Texas is in desperate need right now. If you have Type O (positive or negative) you're a VIP, and you should go today. Here's more information. Go donate today, and then encourage others to do so.

And if you can't donate blood due to health or, past intravenous drug use (doh), check out The Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlie's worked with the City of Austin today to set up the SXSW Cares Fund. From Mohawk owner James Moody: "We have spent today working with SXSW and the city to create a relief fund for the victims. This is our number one priority — their care and support. We are a community here that exists far beyond the 10 days of SXSW. Our intent is to come together to help the families of each and every one of the victims."

Just to clarify, if you did any of the things I mentioned above are feeling like I'm attacking you or trying to call you out, I'm not. I'm just trying to point out how ridiculous it all is lumped together. But it's all just Facebook. It's not real. What is real are the needs of the victims. What is real are the opportunities to help. I put my money where my mouth/blog is by donating to the fund and I'm poor as shit. If you donate your blood and/or your money, then go ahead and make all the poor jokes and judgmental comments online you want. That seems fair.

But do keep in mind that not every dumb thought in your head needs to be dumped into cyberspace.