Opinion and Editorial

What’s in an online message? You’ll never know

Alvin R. Cabral
Filed on November 13, 2020

(Raul Mellado / Alamy Stock Photo)

To a certain extent, we’ve lost some sense of civility in our ranks, let alone the urgency to respect others’ feelings.

Bill Clinton put it so right. In a 2017 David Rubenstein show together with fellow former US commander-in-chief George W. Bush, amidst all the insightful and funny stuff both were armed with, he struck a chord with me with just one line.

“I grew up in a conversational culture where people actually talked and listened to each other, and… I don’t know how these people make it today.”

Simple, yet telling. And it took me on a ride back in time when, putting it in another way, people cared what others would think and feel in response to words.

We live in an age where we — practically all of us — just sit all comfy behind our keyboards; physical or virtual, and spew out all sorts of stuff. Whether we say things that are truthful or otherwise doesn’t really matter because they won’t find out. Sure, throw in a video or image for some ‘proof’, but it’ll only capture some frames, staged if may be and outdated even. Live video? Pretend to be someone you’re not for the entire duration. No big deal.

And whether we like it or not, it’s changed the way we interact with each other; gone are the days when one of the few ways to make your sentiments heard was by picking up a landline phone, taking some seconds to dial a number and be courageous enough to speak to someone.

Emojis have only made it worse: Do you really mean or feel those cutesy creations that you send over?

‘On my way, driving’ with a car emoji, when in truth chap just got out of bed. Or ‘I’m eating healthy now’ with a salad sticker, but while munching on a deep-dish pizza with a cheesecake for good measure. Or ‘I want to see you… soon’ coupled with a winking one.

Or are you just trying to be ‘nice’? Not all that glitters is gold — and you have a mine full of fool’s gold at your disposal. Your own downfall could be the own fool that you are.

To a certain extent, we’ve lost some sense of civility in our ranks, let alone the urgency to respect others’ feelings. We fear retribution somewhat way lesser today, taking into account that only God and yourself know what your intentions were. Words can hurt inasmuch as they can caress, just like the old saying that the one that will hurt you the most is the one that you love the most.

Clinton’s words continue to ring in my head — did he foresee how ugly things would get between his Democrats and Bush’s Republicans? — and it does put into perspective how things have significantly changed: We do have innovations to pamper us today, but at what cost?

Rhetoric is most usually associated with politics, but as much as I hate it, everyone is a politician in one way or another — that includes me, but the question of whether it’s induced or comes naturally is for each of us to find out.

Being an only child and the only child at home honed my patience, eagerly waiting for Sundays for that weekly get-together with my cousins. School assignments and projects required going to the library and meeting up with classmates. Need to get a message across? Pick up the phone or write a letter.

Even courtship was so sincere… meet up with that special someone making your heart beat so fast and see how much of a man you are by mustering the courage to pop those mushy, corny words and let her judge you face-to-face. It was that meaningful. I feel really sorry for those who take advantage today — and even worse for their victims. You wanna be a hero? Fat chance. Don’t bother; you’ll just bleed.

Piece of advice: Take everything with even a little pinch of salt, even just the tiniest bit, because even the tiniest hint of flavour would be enough to take out that bad taste left in your mouth, if ever it comes to that point. There won’t be fools if there weren’t any people gladly willing to be fooled.

And No.42 may have even indirectly referenced today’s online shenanigans.

“Everybody’s got a story and most people can’t tell it. And that’s sad.”

Yeah, even with your ‘stories’ on social media, you really can’t tell it. And that’s sadder. — alvin@khaleejtimes.com

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