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Charlie Hebdo and our online feed

January 13, 2015

“I can’t change you and you can’t change me, but together we can work to change the world.”

My online world is a clash of opinions. The debate that began 2015 was ‘who should we blame for the Charlie Hebdo murders’. And now there is so much more content to debate: the cynicism and hypocrisy of the world leaders’ photo-shoot; the populist news anchor calling for retribution and more death; our Prime Minister’s sleight of hand as he demands that we give up privacy to secure our freedom.

The articles, posts and memes have spiralled in feeds that filter – for our personality – the information we receive. And then we repost as we read our most recent and most passionately held opinion reflected back at us. The hashtags trend whilst, in the real world, the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack are today laid to rest.

In the time between their shooting and their funeral the online world has stopped to have its say and what a say it has had. There is no resolution just a series of ‘final words’ directed at a limitless audience with a very limited attention span, and it makes me wonder if any of us are saying anything much at all, because we are definitely not listening.

Rather than proving who we are by our actions, we so much prefer to build our identities by the likes we notch up for the opinions we post online. As though at least online we can be who we want to be, untroubled by our journey into work that we silence through our headphones, or by the exhaustion of considering who we are and who we dreamt we’d be, or by the fact that time always seems to be running out.

And still vast distances continue to open up between us and all the people who are not our facebook friends. And these distances become unreconcilable gulfs if they are left, if we do not reach across. If we continue to polarize debate by having our say on the hashtag of today – and do not get out from behind our screens to find the places that are open for us to be together and be human.

The online world is where I react to things that I cannot control. If I stay in front of my computer for too long I forget that beyond this screen there is a world where I can do more than react. That there are more important ways to define my self than by what I will and will not ‘share’. That there is a need I feel so deeply that will never be met through this carefully constructed online version of me.

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