A Big Thumbs Up
I teach a version of ENL101- Critical Writing and Reading One that is fully online. In addition to topics such as online learning, one of our first essays covers online persona and the differences between how we represent ourselves and communicate online, especially on social media sites, and our face to face, “real life”, interactions.
While reading The Righteous Mind, I have often thought about this representation and communication comparison, in regards to the main topics of moral judgment, politics, and religion. For example, when it comes to representation. When one meets someone for the first time, they wouldn’t usually reveal their political and religious affiliations as part of their introduction. However, on Facebook, under “Basic Information” – “Religious Views” and “Political Views” are included as two of only six categories they consider to be a “basic” representation of a user.
There are also differences when it comes to commenting on fairly weighty topics. Some may find it easier to pass judgment through a response or post online rather than actually communicating their views face to face with another person or group. And speaking of groups and opportunities to be “groupish”, how does a site like Facebook promote “groupishness”?
In Chapter 3 “Elephants Rule”, Haidt provides some background about Wilhelm Wundt and “affective primacy”: “Wundt said that affective reactions are so tightly integrated with perception that we find ourselves liking or disliking something the instant we notice it, sometimes even before we know what it is” (65). The opportunities to “like” (thumbs up) or comment with dislike on Facebook are much more abundant than in “real life”. In an instant, one can pass a serious moral judgment with thumbs up based on an initial reaction to a collection of words that may or may not be factual, misconstrued, or from a reliable source. One can make their gut reaction to a shocking image that may or may not be taken out of context “public”. One can react to something they may or may not fully understand based on a glimpse and an impulse with little or no afterthought.
I have purposely only lightly touched on each of these points of comparison with the hope that you can expand, disagree, and/or find more examples based on your understanding and experiences communicating online and in face-to-face situations.