The Mirror Reflects

Sure, I had to look up this person (a 24 year old millionaire hip-hop/EDM artist from Australia) before deciding to comment on her words. She’s recently decided to ‘step away’ from social media on account of its continual & mounting negative pressure on her life. Apparently she was fairly active on Twitter and Facebook, and engaged regularly with her fans–something that I think celebrities should probably stop doing. She, like many others over the years of social media’s ascent, learned this the hard way, finding trolls inhabiting all the dark recesses of the Internet.

It’s a problem unique to the Internet in which we currently find ourselves. It’s easy to shed your identifiable traits online (neither Twitter nor Facebook take any special aims to ensure that you are who you say you are–or that you say you’re anyone at all, really) and harass people from the comfort of your own home. Was a time that in order to get that thrill of being a troll, you had to go outside, you had to go to class and throw pebbles at the teacher, you had to go to the diner and make fun of the kids sitting at the counter because they wear eyeliner or flannel shirts, or whatever. Used to be you had to exert energy to ruin someone’s day. Now the freedom to be a dick extends to anyone with a few minutes to kill, whether you’re trolling celebrities on Twitter or “Swatting” someone you envy (a hobby some gamers have found to be thoroughly entertaining–calling the SWAT teams on people live-streaming games; we’ll leave a discussion of how ridiculous that is for a later time). Gizmodo’s Ashley Feinberg says the only real way to avoid this kind of shit is to remove yourself entirely:

This newest case is essentially just a rehashing of the horrific abuse Robin William’s bereaved daughter went through (though admittedly less graphic). Azalea explained her decision in a series of tweets that basically boiled down to “the internet is a dark and horrible place and the only way to escape is to straight up leave.”

I posit that this is neither effective as a strategy to end the harassment (truly, how does one avoid reading nasty things said about something? Have you tried not reading it?), nor is it an effective way to avoid future cases (ibid). In my time, we knew how to deal with bullies, and much to the consternation of the now-adults who had to listen to this crap growing up, ignoring an idiot is the absolute best way to ensure he can’t do anything to you. Eleanor Roosevelt knew this was true: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Some conclude that the only way to fix this sort of situation is to have policing present, in some fashion; solve the problems by having Twitter go in and remove “offensive” images and statements. Twitter has subscribed to this theory, mostly in response to the bullying brought upon Robin Williams’s daughter after his heart-rending suicide last year. Yes, yes, remove the images, suspend the accounts. As we all know, there’s absolutely no way for images to be resubmitted, nor any chance of someone registering a false account.

Were it my service, I would just shut it all down. Throw in the towel. Admit defeat. Twitter, in particular, and social media in general are mirrors that only show the darker sides of our barely-evolved ape species. I’ve watched with sorrow as everything great and noble about this world-encompassing network was torn down and replaced with more corporate logos, more endless noise from which we are expected to ferret out the meager signals of value. I wonder, how many accounts exist online that were never created by humans, but are just auto-generated marketing bots? And what sort of a netizen (a word I’d love to bring back from the graveyard that holds “Cyberspace” and “Information Superhighway”, though I’d caution against its use to describe most people online) generates income for these bots? Is Twitter so useful to society that we can’t see a future without it?

Most importantly, what thoughts of value can be contained within 140 characters? Even Abraham Lincoln, laconic though he was, never felt the calling of brevity so much that he began counting letters in his speeches. (Note: The Gettysburg Address, a transformational speech, was 1477 characters, give or take a few for punctuation.) Hemingway, though capable of astonishing merit with scarce words, still punctuated his life with great tomes of literature, overflowing with words. Ideas of worth are sometimes difficult to express, and there are few topics with which we find ourselves struggling today that can be given effective value with so few characters.

An Introduction of Sorts

The blank page is an intimidating thing. I’ve met many over my years, and each one begs to be purified with the magic of words.

My name is Stephen Van Doren. I was born, raised, and currently reside in Denver, Colorado. I’m in my thirties. I play games, flex my brain around scientific discovery, follow news stories, adore good food and cooking, read books, and have a general interest in nearly anything if you can explain its wider significance; it is cheering to think that one’s opinions are only of the highest quality, referring only to the most important of stories. My parents raised me in the Anglican Catholic faith, though by my teenaged years I gleefully shed the weight of religion and forged my own path forward. I am a programmer, much to my chagrin, and it is basically all I am professionally capable of doing these days. I am engaged to a wonderful man with whom I have shared many years, tears, and fears, and with whom I hope to share a great many more. I’m a steel-eyed liberal, and I actively fight against the demonification of the word ‘liberal,’ as well as the general belief that liberals are weak on security and defense, and that our elevation to national stature pressages an oncoming spate of apologies to cross the world.

I make no apologies for my opinions–and many of them are considered quite extreme today, just as many were in the 60s when some radicals had the insane idea that Black people should probably have the same rights as White people, and maybe we should all just back off a minute and smile at strangers for a few days.

I find Aristotle was right: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. It is in that spirit that I start this little publication, that I might have an outlet into which I can pour all my various thoughts, talk them through with myself–perhaps even get some dissenting opinions from those whose eyes find themselves digesting my words. As a lifelong holder of minority beliefs, it’s all too easy for me to wallow in the fear that I am alone in my thoughts. Perhaps this can act as the beginning of a conversation with you, gentle reader.

I make no promises of timely publication schedules–I recommend subscribing to an RSS feed to handle that. I’ll do my best to provide what words I can, when I can, and I will attempt to do so as frequently as possible. I’ve been a “netizen” (are we still using that word?) of the Internet since the late 90s, this isn’t my first horse race. I’ve had blogs, I’ve written for monthly publications, I’ve composed prose and poetry, I’ve helped strangers on forums, and I’ve engaged in those heated flame wars that burn so brightly for so brief a moment–tiny digital novae.

Mostly, though, I’ve been a casual observer, an anonymous voice easily lost in the tumult of the 21st Century and its interminable echo chamber. The great tragedies of my adult life I’ve shared with faceless strangers, that a burden shared is a burden lessened. When the towers came down that September morning, I shared my pain with strangers. When the nation elected its first Black President, I shared my joy with strangers. For each new video of a beheading in the Middle East, each new state issuing marriage equality, each child gunned down by over-zealous police or neighborhood watchmen–I share these events with friends, family, and, yes, strangers, and the pains are lessened and the joys are multiplied because they are shared.

As we become ever-more polarized in our political, social, and economic strata, it has become more important for there to be more voices in the fray, not fewer. And I choose to add mine to the chorus, throwing my hat in as best I can, to provide my perspective on topics that interest me and, in so doing, perhaps introduce you to a point you might not have known was there, or a topic you didn’t know you had interest in.

Perhaps you’ll note that I haven’t got anywhere here where you’re encouraged to comment and discuss topics with other visitors. This is purposeful. I believe the anonymity of the Internet is both its strongest weapon and its weakest link, a way for the disenfranchised to speak out against their tormentors, and a way for bullies to flex their pathetic muscles in the mirror as they break down strangers. That won’t happen here. You’re welcome to send me a letter at any point–I assure you I will read it. I take this method from the great Andrew Sullivan, whose recent retirement from blogging is definitely part of the reason why I’m dipping my toe back in. I know I can’t replicate his genius (I don’t have the time or interest in being a curator like that), but I am interested in forming connections with anyone willing to spend a moment to say hello.

So enjoy yourself, thank you for reading, and I look forward to getting to know you better.