While I’m not in the higher ed/student affairs realm much these days, I still have friends connected to the field that I follow on social media. Recently, at a NASPA conference (a student affairs association), a little bit of controversy occurred that really got me rolling my eyes. Apparently, a handful (maybe a little more) of the conference goers took to social media app, Yik Yak, to share their thoughts about the conference. Comments ranged from things like, shouting out the number of attractive women present, to expressing boredom in workshops. It really ran the gamut and if you’d like to see for yourself, check out this storify link with the screenshots of the discussions.
Lately, I’ve been sort of talking more and more about how we communicate in my blogs. Personally, I feel like social media has ruined so many aspects of how we communicate. Once upon a time, we could express our opinions and they wouldn’t be taken so seriously or out of context. I think it was because we sought to figure out where the person was coming from. But today, it seems like it’s the complete opposite. No one seeks out someone’s rationale for their comments/statements. Rather, they take the person’s words and run with them as is and without any explanation from the commenter. To me, it’s so dangerous to not get more information and critically think about what someone is trying to express.
One of the major issues with social media is that, when we write our words, we don’t know how someone else will interpret them. The person reading your words cannot hear your tone or inflections in your voice. They can’t see your facial expressions. Your words are taken and interpreted through that person’s voice and tone, which they can then, interpret into anything they want. For example, if you’re a man attempting to compliment a woman on social media, your compliment can be made into anything that woman wants. Based on her character, she can take those words as the compliment it was meant to be or, she can take it as a sexist, chauvinist remark. You see what I mean?
If you read some of the conference comments made on the Yik Yak app, I just felt it was clear that some of the comments were taken too seriously. I really didn’t see a big cause for concern with the majority of the comments. I understand that the comments were not professional and came across a bit juvenile or uncouth. But for the most part, it was just people stating opinions. I don’t think any that I read were offensive or derogatory. Again, they weren’t professional, but the app is not an app for professional discussions. I could see a cause for alarm if the app was made specifically to engage the attendees, to spark professional discord. But that wasn’t the case, therefore, attendees should’ve been free to use the app in any way they wanted.
In general, I see the above happen all the time on Facebook, Twitter or when I read comments on an article. Some people just go overboard with how they interpret things in this digital age. Ideally, if you’re reading something and don’t know the person behind those words, why would you automatically make these assumptions about the person’s words? Unless you read some outlandish derogatory remarks (and those are out there, of course), assume the person’s words aren’t trying to be offensive/hateful. Not everyone is attempting to be hurtful/mean. Not everyone is racist. Not every man is a sexist pig. Sometimes, people have opinions they’d like to share that may not be popular, and that’s ok. But guess what? Because we have free speech, we can certainly share our opposing thoughts and maybe we can try to see where that person is coming from. Remember we used to do that? It was called a conversation. YESSS. We remember those, right? Remember when we used to have discussions and dare I say, debates about things we disagreed on? Unfortunately, it seems like these days, we’re not into conversations or debates. We’re into immediately shutting down anyone whose thoughts and ideas are even the slightest bit different than our own. And I’m not talking about people going on racist/sexist/offensive tirades. I’m talking about people talking about regular, everyday run-of-the-mill stuff!
I feel like I’ve been writing ‘debbie downer’ type posts lately. It’s not my intent at all, but I just keep seeing these situations pop on social media that make me feel like the way we communicate is getting worse and worse. I’m not sure what we can do about it. Hopefully, we all reach the point where we get tired of this style of communication and start getting back to the way we used to talk.
Speaking of…when’s the last time you called someone on the phone? Remember that thing? It’s the thing you use to comment on Yik Yak.