A local Comcast customer was having trouble with his new cable internet service. After some difficulties, he finally had a service technician in his house. The technician needed assistance from the office, and was put on hold for an hour. While waiting, the technician fell asleep on a couch. The customer’s response? He videotaped the sleeping man, and posted it on the internet. As a result, the technician was fired.
We know little about the technician. He could be a hard-working man, with a wife and kids, working long hours with little sleep. Who among us hasn’t drifted off during a sermon, a long meeting, or at other inappropriate times? Why not just wake the guy up? Why humiliate him in front of the entire world? The customer’s anger at the company was directed at the technician, with no thought to the damage it would cause.
The internet is part of the problem. Anonymity and physical isolation make it easy to say things that civilized people wouldn’t say in public. E-mail complaints are often harsh and cruel compared to in-person complaints. And the internet gives us a world-wide receptive audience for our diatribes.
The web offers the opportunity for debating problems and finding common solutions, but it rarely lives up to its potential. You are much more likely to find childish insults, personal attacks, vulgar racial, ethnic, and sexual slurs, and baseless accusations of wrongdoing. The “search for common ground” with our fellow man is replaced by the simpler “seek and destroy” of faceless opponents. Instead of working through our differences, we draw lines in the sand and hurl invectives hoping to demonize our opponents.
People are human beings, worthy of respect. There are few truly evil people in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from our modern discourse. We used to care about people as people, now we want to dehumanize them so we can ignore them, attack them, and destroy them, without feeling any guilt.
So tonight, some cable technician is sitting with his wife and kids, explaining why they had to cancel their summer vacation because he lost his job for nodding off waiting on hold. And too many people see nothing wrong with that, because we’ve lost our capacity to see others as fellow human beings. Life itself has become a game to us, and we’ve forgotten that real people are suffering from our words and actions.