The power of face to face conversation
For the past couple of weeks, the utility of the Civil Discourse has been called into question by students. I really hate to beat a dead horse, but I think that when Mark Gracyk wrote his article (no matter how skewed in logic it may have been), it started a dialogue that should be encouraged to continue. The Discourse is great for awareness, but nothing can replace good, old-fashioned face-to-face discussion and debate. Colby’s ultimate goal (and one of its major selling points) is to produce citizens of the world who can effectively work to make change and become leaders. How are we supposed to do that if the only way we can share our ideas is through a computer screen?
Last year, there was an open-mic in Page about gender at Colby, which gave students and faculty the opportunity to actually voice their opinions about the issues that continually plague our community. Attending this forum was probably one of the most empowering and effective things I have seen happen in my year and a half on this campus. Students all around me waited for the microphone and made their opinions known. All I could think was how courageous and impressive it was that people were willing to stand up and say what they wanted others to hear. It’s hard to get up and speak your mind: it’s one of the most vulnerable things a person can do, especially in front of large groups of people who seem like they’re going to tear you apart. The ability to have an opinion has become underrated, especially with the prevalence of social networking and public e-mail.
We’ve been told thousands of times by our parents, friends and teachers to never put things in writing online because we’ll never be able to take them back. With the amount of people on the Internet at any given time, you could post a Facebook status, take it down two minutes later and have it still be seen by at least a dozen people, which means at least double that number will know about it an hour later. I know that sometimes it’s easier, liberating even, to spill (or rather, type) your guts, seeing paragraph after paragraph come into fruition, but in the end, does it really solve anything? The person whose attention you’re trying to get may not even be logged on long enough to see it.
After thinking about this for a while, I figured out the root of the problem: we don’t know how to communicate with each other. At all. This is the argument that has been used against us for most of our teenage years, and it’s valid. But when you think about it, it’s not our fault. We’re the babies of the digital age, raised on social networking and Apple products. In school, debates have been replaced by essays and response questions. Conferencing with peers on papers can be avoided by using track changes. We can buy and sell anything without stepping foot into a store, and with email, we don’t have to ever meet with a teacher in person.
This is all great when thinking about progress and innovation, but it has one terrifying result: silence. When something is bothering us, we take to the Internet instead of talking about it. Twitter posts and Facebook statuses can be your best friend, but they can also be your worst enemy when they are used to express frustration and problems. We live in a world where it’s better to use unoffensive behavior than to make waves. From a young age, we’re taught to be politically correct, non-confrontational or low-maintenance, and that attitude leads to writing frustration down instead of verbally letting it out. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being respectful, we should ask ourselves how close to the line we are willing to get before we take action. Posting “omg the party upstairs will not shut up” instead of knocking on the door and asking them to turn it down forces us to believe the worst in people and makes us look just as bad.
We don’t have to walk the technologically-programmed path that’s been laid out for us. Enough problems in the world result from misinterpretation. We have the chance to stop that unfortunate pattern, but only if we start now. If we’re going to get anywhere, it’s important that we value speaking our minds and risking a little criticism instead of hiding behind a keyboard. So, next time someone moves our stuff in Miller or leaves a mess in the bathroom in the dorm, I’m challenging everyone (myself included) to politely say something. Words are a powerful thing, even more so when they are spoken. Own your opinion and share it. Who knows? You could inspire someone else to do the same.