It happens every time we participate in a parade or convoy: Hundreds of people along the route, waving at the vehicles as they pass. It happened again yesterday in a charity toy run as several hundred Harley’s and Jeeps followed a slow circuitous route around the city. From sidewalks and front porches, they smiled and waved as the procession passed, many taking pictures and video. “Merry Christmas,” some would call out. Even those trapped in traffic at the cross streets would wave from their vehicles. Black, white, old young it matters not. All share the same moment.
The two most destructive forces in America today – organized political parties and a partisan, agenda-driven media – promote the narrative that Americans are irretrievably divided along class, ideological and racial lines. While it would be Pollyannaish to believe that everything is just rosy (or ever will be), it’s a discredit to the true nature of the American people to portray them as irredeemably negative or hateful. We are not. Yet turn on the news and that’s what you see.
Pursuing their own ends for their own reason, both political parties and the media are fueling an atmosphere of discord, one that gets spun and amped up in the infinite wasteland of the Internet and social media. It is here, in the safe confines of forums and chat rooms, Facebook and the Twittersphere, that too many rally to seek validation of the beliefs and their fears. There is a certain reassurance when a friend you don’t know and have never met agrees with your inner thoughts. You’re not alone after all.
But in truth, the Internet is very lonely place. You use it while you’re alone. You post comments while alone. You like and share things in isolation.
Perhaps – and this is a perhaps that began forming while waving back at those standing on sidewalks and front lawns – the great need we have today is to interact with actual life. Not post about it or comment on it, but participate in it. In our increasingly disconnected world, we seek to once again connect with real people and real. Perhaps that is what draws those people outside, to stand for 30 minutes or more and wave as hundreds of strangers drive by: To engage in something that reminds them of their own innate goodness, despite what they hear and read every day whenever they switch that device in their hand from camera to browser. Shutting out the negative is like a burst of dopamine for the soul.
What to do about it is up to the individual. It takes recognizing that life in the digital world is not freedom, but submission. While the Internet is indispensable and offers many benefits, perhaps we should take stock of its negative elements such as social media and wave it all away.