Social media rage: A few thoughts

Everyone is spouting off, but not enough of us are spending actual time together

For those of you who are cycling fans (Hi, Matthew!), you’ll be very familiar with the ongoing saga of the relationship between Team Sky teammates Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. But for the rest of you, here’s the story in a nutshell. Wiggins, supported by Froome, won the Tour de France in 2012. But during that race there were a couple of instances where Froome seemed to take on Wiggins who, as team leader, shouldn’t of been challenged. Wiggins didn’t like this and their relationship soured, despite Wiggins’ win.

The whole build up to the subsequent 2013 Tour de France was coloured by whether Wiggins or Froome would be team leader. Froome felt that, after serving Wiggins in 2012, he deserved a shot. Wiggins though, unsurprisingly, wanted to defend his title. Each was convinced it should be them, and they kept releasing press releases to say as much. Injury to Wiggins brought the saga to an end and Froome went on to win—but Wiggins didn’t congratulate him, even continuing to hold onto his 2012 winnings that should have been shared with Froome. Their relationship seemed irreparable.

Today though, in an interview in The Times, Wiggins has said that, following a team training camp they were both at in December, the two of them are now in a much better place.

It was the first time we’d really been around each other and we just talked. It’s a lesson for us all, spending time together, not reading about someone through the newspapers. We’re actually looking forward to racing together now, rather than wondering what was going to happen when we raced together.

So simple, and yet so profound. They spent some time together. This jumped out at me because its relevance spreads so much further than a spat between two cyclists. People are falling out with each other left, right, and centre at the moment thanks in large part to the ease at which we can communicate with each other without any relational presence.

Social media has made it so easy to fire off an opinion or a comment devoid of any personal connection. And these inevitably lack any sense of tone that only relational context can bring. The result is the ever-increasing rise of social media rage. Everyone is spouting off, but not enough of us are spending actual time together.

I wonder, for instance, how much more civil political debate might be if we spent some time building friendships with people from different perspectives, rather then just yelling at each other via the media or social media. And might even Prime Ministers Questions take on a different tone if David Cameron and Ed Miliband actually spent time cultivating a relationship away from the media, rather than ceaselessly responding to each others soundbites through spokespeople.

It’s not that I’m against online interaction. Not at all. And clearly we can’t get to know everyone we have a conversation with online. But for the people we debate and converse with only online, perhaps wisdom would be in being restrained, assuming the best, and, when necessary, stepping back. What’s the point in losing it with a total stranger?

My friend, Ryan, emailed me a couple of articles to look at this morning. ‘Read these,’ he said. ‘But don’t dive deeply into the comments section, it’s quicksand.’ I then replied saying, ‘Don’t worry—I never read comments any more. Too disheartening about the state of the human race.’

Does it really have to be like this?

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