WHEN actor Morgan Freeman talked this week about the "dehumanising" nature of social media and online culture, there surely must have been a sense of irony in those words. The Academy Award-winning actor, famous for his calm, narrative-style voice, has been the victim of two social media hoaxes, most notably one which announced he was dead.
But irony aside (and acting-wise he is an on-screen master of it), Freeman was commenting, during a Hollywood interview on his role in the movie Transcendence, on how the most advanced technology he knew of, when he was a child, was a radio. He first encountered a telephone by age 6. He told the interviewer he considered the invasive and all-encompassing nature of social media "dehumanising".
History has amply demonstrated that when we don't emotionally connect with each other, we're capable of some pretty "dehumanising" actions. There's a reason why soldiers wear uniforms. It is, I suspect, a lot easier to shoot something that has no individuality, no personality. It's not a "real" person. I understand Freeman's point to a degree. Human beings are a lot more relaxed about being insulting or derogatory when they are a mile away from their opponent - or an entire hemisphere away. Most of us think twice about really getting in someone's face at a pub and letting them know what we think of them, but within the safety of social media it's just a name - or a pseudonym - chucking insults around. The standard social behaviours of humans, which include survival instincts and an aversion to getting involved, get completely thrown out the window because now you can pretty much drive someone to suicide using online tools, without even really knowing who they are.
People like myself have discovered social media, but have an innate primate's ability to regulate my behaviour among the tribe from pre-social media times. But those who have grown up with social media will be learning a completely different set of social rules. What I hope is the rules of the tribe - usually learned in the school playground - remain enough to set a baseline for life on the rights and wrongs on how we interact with each other.