NS: We are all of us told that we are living through a communications revolution. Thanks to satellites and television and computers and the internet, just about everyone is connected to just about everyone else. But is being connected and being able to tell everyone everything and anything really communication? If we have not already lost it, are we not in danger of losing the ability actually to communicate one with another using only our purely human abilities?
RJR: I feel we now live in an era of superficial communication where the real intimacy of conversation and connection has been replaced with intrusion and projection. It really does feel like a revolution, a time of immense change and potential, but the negative effects of the speed and greed of these times is having an impact in all areas and on all things.
NS: Yes, the intrusion and projection are more gossip, speculation and sensationalising. And the ‘communication’ of the internet often seems more like an emptying out of the garbage inside us. Not only has the Warholian prediction that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes more or less come true, but it seems that events and issues and conversations now last for even less. There is no time for evaluation or analysis or reflection. Has technology become the enemy of communication?
RJR: And I am not sure we are encouraged to evaluate and reflect. In the speed of the now and in our culture when more is never enough, there is no space for these ‘self indulgent pursuits’, in fact they can be seen as dwelling rather taking stock, brooding rather than being self aware. But only when we are self aware and take responsibility for how we communicate with others can we truly achieve intimacy with others. We are now brainwashed to cut corners and think less, say less, be less but have more and more.
NS: Reflection – before and after communication – must also be part of that communication, or at least meaningful communication. By cutting every corner and by constantly receiving and responding instantly, we are, as you say, in danger of not really communicating at all. Is all of this – this high-speed news and high-speed social connection – actually bringing about the death of intimacy in our relationships with others?
RJR: I really think so. I am wondering what your opinion is of Mean Tweets? Jimmy Kimmel in the States asks celebrities to respond to the mean tweets posted to them on Twitter. Not a fan or tweeter myself, I was shocked to hear people saying the things they did to other human beings. I would be interested in your double take too….
NS: I more or less stopped using Twitter, more because of its frequent inanity than its offensiveness, but I think I know the sort of thing you’re talking about. Mean tweeting is in the same territory as that inhabited by the trolls, yes? I know from my own experience what it’s like to be on the end of these things. When a newspaper did a feature on the publication of my novel Like A Flower not that long ago, there was almost instant abuse (of me and the book) online – from someone who could not have read the book and who had no idea who I was. The fact that I had had a book published seemed really to offend them. I imagine that “celebrities” have to put up with this sort of thing much-magnified day after day. And my own bewilderment and hurt must have been quite minor compared with what they have to put up with. In answer to your question, yes it is shocking the stuff that people write about other people online – this bright new world of the most instant and advanced communication seems to be a vehicle for the darkest interior world of the angry, frustrated and hate-filled human being. Perhaps we have to see it as an education for us… that this primitive and aggressive nastiness is out there. But is it good that people have an outlet for these horrible feelings? Or should they be prevented from venting them in this way? Should there be censorship or not? And if not, is it better to ignore them rather than to respond?
RJR: I don’t think it is a good thing that people have an outlet for primitive and aggressive nastiness. It is not like by releasing they are coming to any great realisations about how they feel. The negativity only fuels others to do the same and encourages these kinds of destructive behaviours. I don’t think that they can be prevented now that the forums are out there. Do you? I don’t know how censorship would work, and now that the outlet is there, would there not be a revolt if that freedom of speech were taken away? I am not sure the answer is in ignoring them. Much like a child who is ignored, they don’t just give up, and if they do, does that not lead to more destruction? There must be another way?
NS: No, the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. And censorship, if it were possible, would only lead to a different kind of problem over what was allowed to be said and what wasn’t allowed, and who was going to decide. That seems to lead to ignoring them – or engaging with them in some way. Is there a positive way in which one can respond to or comment on people saying the most hurtful and aggressive things?
RJR: I think Mean Tweets have got it right actually. The actor reads out what was said to them and shows how hurtful and often ridiculous these comments are. I know we don’t have an equivalent but maybe the message will make a difference?
NS: Perhaps that is right. Rather than ignore the hurtful comments, process them and then be rid of them – and not allow them to cause any hurt. The pain or hurt may well reside much more with the person who wrote the hateful comments, and maybe we should just feel glad that we are not in their position – and guard against allowing ourselves to get into that position. In this way, there is a sort of communication and a lesson – and something positive.