Friday, November 13, 2015

Thick skin, tired platitudes, online outrage & ugly coffee cups

I'm pausing my NaNoWriMo endeavors for a moment to talk about coffee cups, Internet outrage, thin skin and how applying tired platitudes to your life can be beneficial.

I enjoy writing fiction, but my bread and butter is journalism. It's what keeps food on my family's table and a roof over our heads.

I've spent the last 17 years working in print media. In that time, I've seen a lot of changes, perhaps the biggest of which is the way readers interact with writers.

When I began working in print media, a reader who wanted to express his/her disgust with a story and/or the way "the messenger" delivered it had only four main options of doing so.

1. He/She could go down to the newspaper office and have a face-to-face conversation.
2. He/She could pick up the phone and call the office.
3. He/She could crab to his/her friends in a conversation that likely would be forgotten in 10 minutes.
3. He/She could write a letter to the editor.

The fourth was the only way to bring a broader audience that would invite others to express their opinion, as well. It required thought and initiative on the part of the person expressing the opinion.

I'd be willing to wager that more often than not the irritation would pass before he/she got around to gathering his/her thoughts, writing them out in a clear and concise letter, signing it (because a name was required to be printed as a letter to the editor) and taking/mailing it down to the newspaper office.

The result was a more passive, more polite society, where people thought before they reacted in a public way.

In 1993, few -- if any -- would've bothered to express more than a, "Damn, Starbucks, that's an ugly red cup you've got there. Next year, do us all a favor. Shell out a few more cents per package and spring for the snowflakes."

Then the Internet and social media came along.

Suddenly, some guy with a video camera claims all Christians should be offended by Starbucks "anti-Christmas cups" (What?) Someone gets upset because someone else expressed an opinion and before you know it Donald Trump is threatening to cancel the lease of one of the most profitable Starbucks locations in the country. (Again, what?)

Seems a bit absurd, doesn't it?

It's a knee-jerk reaction, and I'm not saying anything new by saying it's because the Internet has made it so easy to be an anonymous pinhead with an opinion.

What I am saying that might be new is it's no big deal. If  I've learned anything being in print media for 17 years it is that thick skin will never go out of style and tired platitudes exist because there's usually a grain of truth to the message they hold.


It's a tired platitude, a cliche phrase that holds a lot of meaning when it comes to the fast-moving world of social media.

Remember the name Jerry Sandusky? You should. In 2011, he was the most hated man in America, an assistant college football coach who was later convicted of being a serial child molester. His vile, wicked, disgusting, inexcusable behavior was responsible for bringing down the reputation of one of the most beloved head football coaches in NCAA history, Joe Paterno.

He was the subject of memes, tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, news stories. Comments sections on news sites filled with thread after thread of  hate-filled messages about Sandusky, the Penn State football program and even the win-at-all costs/look-the-other-way philosophy that permeated NCAA Division I football.

Everybody had an opinion.

But now, unless you're a Penn State fan/student/alum, a college football nut (like myself), have a memory like a steel trap or were -- God forbid -- one of his victims, you likely had to think really hard (or cheat and use Google) to put a scandal to his name.

The trending topic passed. The media moved on to the next big thing, another topic that would generate massive traffic to its websites, thereby increasing ad revenue to the nth degree.

If Jerry Sandusky and his awful crimes can be pushed to the back of our collective consciousness, so can whatever minor online messes in which you might find yourself.


I'm not talking about Jerry Sandusky anymore. (In my opinion, that was worse than it seemed because there were a whole lot of innocent people who paid the price for his crimes.)

I'm talking about when you're the subject of something awful that's out there on the Internet for the whole world to see.

You got a negative review.

Someone called you out on a blog post they didn't like.

You used bad judgment on a social media post. It got shared and retweeted 13,600 times, and now everybody has an opinion about it.

Of course they do. EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC.

Even you have an opinion. Do you not share those opinions on social media?

That's all a social media trend usually is; it's a bunch of people expressing their opinion -- some are informed, many are not -- at the same time.

The trick is learning to PICK YOUR BATTLES. 

It's entirely too easy to sit down at a keyboard and lash out at people who are expressing an opinion contrary to yours or contrary to what you know is true. 

You'll drive yourself crazy trying to respond to every single one of them. I know it feels like you're standing in the middle of a raging forest fire and squirting a small extinguisher at the flames around your feet.

But it's not worth the time or the effort because





Kathryn Harris is a journalist, a weekend blogger, a wife, a mother of two and the author of "The Long Road to Heaven," a novel about finding faith and forgiveness in the aftermath of addiction.


Lala B said...

A great write up! Social media has its pros and cons that's for sure. It's hard for some folks to say, "Hey, we don't agree, but that's okay!" And you're right, if we tried to respond to everything we didn't like, we'd waste a whole lot of time. Sometimes I see things in my feed that make me question who I'm "friends" I tend to just keep scrolling.

Kathryn Harris said...

lol, Lala B, I think we ALL have friends in our friends list like that. Thankfully, even those friends generally have good qualities that makes them worth keeping around. Sometimes it's really hard to find those qualities though. :)

Thanks for stopping by.