There are entire fortunes, technologies and industries built on the fact that everyone loves having their say. It’s not some new phenomena, from the moment humans started thinking and talking, we’ve wanted to have our 2c, or shekels or giant round rocks—choose your currency.
From Parchment to Photons
All that has changed are the tools we have at hand, not our desire to share our opinion. Whether it was scratching lines into clay tablets or running a clattering printing press or resonating across the radio waves, they are all satisfying the same yearning to be heard.
However, there something new, and different than what has gone before. For a big chunk of history, being heard behind your immediate circles was not something equally available to all. Not everyone could read or write, or afford to pay someone to do it for them.
The Centralisation Cannot Hold
Not only did this mean governments or institutions could control the flow of ideas and knowledge, but that not everyone could simply easily record and share their thoughts and see them sink or swim on merit—you needed the right tools or skills or privilege.
While each technological advance made it easier, perhaps only the printing press comes even slightly close to approaching the way the internet has allowed almost anyone to have their say—and increasingly not just in the more affluent countries of the world.
Don’t Look Behind the Curtain!
This is why governments try and block Google or put internet filters in place or try and create new laws and regulations to take back control of the internet from the unwashed masses. It’s not about terrorism or child pornography—valid concerns though they are—it’s because governments with something to hide or that fear the truth want to make sure they get to decide what people know (it’s also why Net Neutrality is one of the more important issues of our day and everyone should make sure they educate themselves).
Of course, while the internet may have the power to overthrow governments, not every idea or opinion expressed on it is of that level of significances. But, thats the beauty—and the power—of it. Anyone can talk about anything on it, from the richest business magnate to the poorest of the unemployed. Ideas can be shared like never before, and everyone has the same potential audience. The limiting factor now is the idea itself.
Well, not quite, as there are still those who get more of a platform, and those who are often silenced, but that is an article in itself. It’s not perfect, but it is better than it has ever been. But, the other side of that is that, while almost anyone can now have their say, not everyone has something worth saying. Now that everyone can have put their 2c in—I mean, here I am on a globally syndicated website!—there is a whole lot of white noise to wade through, and it is definitely more a case of quantity than quality.
Spam, Scandal and Salacious Sites
Where once the barrier to being heard was having no method to get things out there, the biggest challenge is standing out from that crowd, being the one out of a few thousand other people talking about the same thing. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of people who decide the way to overcome that is not high quality content that stands out because it is the best, but by trying to capture eyeballs by being the loudest or the most controversial or the most scandalous—or simply make stuff up.
Changing this can’t—and shouldn’t—come from some kind of internet police or national governments. It needs to come from us deciding what sort of internet we would want, and modifying our behaviour accordingly. Don’t want trashy celebrity click bait or fake news drawing out everything else? Visit the websites that actually do research or give a considered point of view instead. Want a kinder environment on social media? Be nice to those around you.
Do As I Say, Not What I Do!
Probably the most counter cultural of all—and, like the others, containing more than a touch of hypocrisy as I am just as guilty as anyone else—is to embrace the idea that sometimes we don’t need to weigh in on things, that sometimes people aren’t going to die if they don’t get to hear what we think about a topic.
It doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to free speech or expression, it’s just about thinking about whether we actually have something worth saying. It also helps if we keep in mind free speech means being able to say what we want, but it doesn’t mean anyone has to listen.
There are some topics where we are better off sitting back and listening, and perhaps learning something, rather than just adding to the noise—and perhaps drowning out someone who does have something of value to say on the topic.
Addiction to Attention
Most of you will have heard about the #METOO movement, which has exposed endemic sexual harassment, and given women across the world a place to tell their own stories and be heard. However, again and again, I’ve seen men feeling the need to weigh in and demand to be listened to—and very rarely actually contributing anything of worth.
That’s just one example of people making their desire to have their say more important than the actual conversation, a belief that people have an obligation to listen to their ideas regardless of their value or merit. IT’s an act of selfishness, because it is about trying to wrest attention away from the actual topic and instead centre it on themselves.
Weighing In, Found Wanting
I see it in discussions about religion where people try and argue theology when they have no knowledge of the actual teachings they are misrepresenting, or writing forums where new authors tell best sellers how everything they are doing is wrong, or even—especially—computer advice sites where the people who designed the software are drowned out by people who think they know more.
Does that mean you can’t talk about a subject unless you are an expert with a degree, or debate politics if you aren’t in parliament, or speak out against injustice if it isn’t directly impacting you? Of course not!
It simply means making sure we know what we are talking about before wading in, or not repeating something ten other people have said because we are too lazy to read more than a few posts back—or just listening to people who have something to say or share, or might know more about it than you do.
And, as hard as it is many of us—sometimes it is knowing when to just shut up, instead talking for the sake of making a noise.
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
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