There’s a guy at the renaissance festival that runs a puppet stand for a character named “Lord Felton”. He sometimes roams the festival and you can see him and his puppet together, but other times, he parks himself behind a black curtain in a little booth and he (Lord Felton) hawks, “Cooooooo-nversations!” Kids go up to the booth to talk to the puppet, but are often at a loss at what to say to him. Next to him is a little roulette wheel with various topics written in chalk on it. Spin the wheel and off they go! Conversations last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. He’s one of my favorite characters at the festival, and he’s really fun to watch.
Social Media: The Death of Discourse
Social media is similar to the conversation booth at the festival, because “Lord Felton” is basically an avatar for a real human behind the curtain. It’s also similar because the faire-goer is a human talking to… well.. a puppet. It’s easy for the human to not take the puppet seriously. Fair-goers talk to the puppet for a minute or two and walk away, bemused.
Deep down though, you know the dude behind the curtain is a real person, and you should treat the puppet with respect. This concept I fear is far more easily forgotten in cyber-space.
In the wake of the U.S. Election, my Facebook feed is blowing up with outraged opinions and a barrage of bad/offensive/inaccurate memes. People who used to be friends are blocking one-another. One person posts articles against bullying, while in their next breath guilts another by calling them “privileged”. No one is listening to each other. Discourse has died here.
Have we all forgotten our humanity? Oh. Of course not–because Humans also LOVE drama.
I generally take a no-nonsense approach to bullshit in my life, because I have a short one (life, that is), and I’m not going to spend it trying to navigate the waters of politics (or religion) on social media. If I don’t like what my friends are spewing into my personal feed, I’ll just quietly unfollow them, and that’s that. I reserve my Facebook feed for pictures of people’s babies, pets and vacations. I will handle the grittier conversations elsewhere.
Resurrecting the Art of Discourse
Where is elsewhere? I admit that I live in a bit of a bubble. I don’t get a chance to talk to people that are really different than me. I’ve tried joining a few Facebook groups for various topics such as religion, philosophy, sexuality, etc. but I’ve found that the discussion-board form of dialogue is extremely prone to miscommunication, and besides, the topics are confined to the theme of the group, and the whims of the moderators.
In addition, people forget that the comments on those discussion boards are coming from real people, not just robots with avatars! It’s far too easy to dismiss and villify other people’s points of view. I’ve tried engaging some of the people in the groups one-to-one in private messages, but they seem shy (or reluctant). Maybe being outside of the group is scary because there’s no “safety in numbers”? In a one-to-one they can’t just interject occasionally, they must engage with me.
So what if I turn this around and broadcast that I am interested in talking to you (yes, YOU). I’d like hear about different points of view, and learn more about people’s experiences. If you’d like to tell me about yourself, I invite you to do so. I want to hear your story.
I’ll start with two rules (because I’m not naive and I know how the internet can be):
- You need to be over 18 years of age.
- Lewd behavior will not be tolerated. We can discuss human sexuality clinically or philosophically if the discussion trends that way, but if at any time I feel that you are acting inappropriately, I will say so. If I have to remind you enough times, I will abruptly end the conversation and block you (fair warning, eh?).
I suspect that there may need to be additional rules around this idea of mine, and I will update if I need to. For now, let’s just keep it loose and see what happens.
I’ll ask you a few questions right away. If you want to cut to the chase, you can answer them in your message to me:
- What’s your name? (Real or fake, I don’t care. Just something to call you by.)
- How old are you?
- Where were you born, and where do you live currently? (It’d be helpful if you tell me your country and state/province at least. If you live in a large city, it’d be good to know that as well, but I understand if you’d rather not say.)
- What is your gender?
- How much time do you have?
- What chat platform do you use? I prefer Google Hangouts, but I can meet you on any chat platform you like.
- What are we going to chat about? I have tons of questions to get the conversation going. First, I’ll ask some orientation questions like, “What your favorite movie” or “What country would you most like to visit?” Once we’re warmed up I’ll get into questions that may be controversial or personal. You can choose to not answer them; just let me know and I’ll move to the next topic.
- “But I’m not interesting.” I’m not either. Let’s talk anyway.
To get started, message me through my blog’s contact form to connect with me.
Image Source: Paul Tichonczuk