This article first appeared on Malta Today
My favourite button on my keyboard at the moment has got to be the “delete” button. Not that I’m deleting others, but it’s to delete my own comments which I would be about to post, but then on reflection, decide not to. Sometimes I do it regretfully because I would want to make what I think is an important point in one of those constant debates sprinkled all over FB, but on second thoughts I think, ‘nah, not worth it’. I would just end up spending the whole day hearing my laptop and iPhone going ‘ping’ with notifications and name-tagging.
Frankly it’s summer, it’s too hot, and I’d rather be at the beach, freed of the prison sometimes posed by technology.
But the main reason that I keep deleting my replies is that, no matter what the subject is, the back and forth can go on for hours, even days, with no end in sight, and unfortunately, the debate is rarely thought-provoking and stimulating but just reams of diatribes by people who are like a dog with a bone. Online arguments have become the soul-destroying exercise of the masochistic. You start off discussing A and end up discussing X,Y, Z with so many detours and going off on a tangent in between, that you almost need to be armed with a GPS to stay on track. Trying to discuss anything is like wading through treacle, or trying to get out of a sandpit: you think you have made some headway but you just keep getting sucked back into the sticky mess.
At the moment the hot topics are same-sex marriage, whether we will be “allowed” to address our parents as Mum and Dad, and the finer points of Jesus eating pizza on a billboard.
Weaving through these issues are the relative attributes and weaknesses of the main contenders to date for the PN leadership, and whether the Nationalist party is going to end up splitting across liberal/conservative divides…oh and I almost forgot, whether all this is a grand scheme by Muscat who has engineered this split by cleverly tossing the spanner of gay marriage into the works, knowing it would cause an already splintered party to implode.
Any of these issues are enough to keep people who love to argue going for weeks – it is as if, once the election was over, many were restlessly looking around for something else to sink their teeth into, because they were missing the rush of adrenalin of having something juicy to bicker about every time they logged on and, much like drug addicts, they badly needed their fix.
But more and more, I start reading all the arguments and counter-arguments on any given subject, and…I just can’t deal with it. There is such a dearth of true exchange of ideas or perspectives that it just fills me with ennui and I want to crawl over to my sofa and have a nice long nap. Most of all, however, what really does my head in is the pedantic insistence with which some demand that others agree with them, and who will not give in (or stop commenting) until they do. Basically, it seems to me that many don’t really want to discuss; they just want to be right.
It reminds me of one of those childhood wrestling games when one kid would get the other into a headlock and will not release his grip until he “cries Uncle”, in other words, admit defeat.
But the way I see it, once I have said what I think and you have replied with your opposing view – well, that’s pretty much it. I’m completely fine with it, and I will just go make myself a cup of tea. However, clearly, not everyone is quite willing to let it go at that. There I would be, waiting for the kettle to boil when ‘ping, ping’, sure enough, the person is back, all powered up to continue the war of words in an attempt to bury me in their verbosity and above all determined to prove to me that I am wrong and they are right and I have to admit it, and agree with their point of view, otherwise they will just never, ever stop.
I don’t know where this has all stemmed from, because from a population which used to run away from ‘vox pops’ and was afraid to stick its neck out and state its opinion, we have now become a nation which is hell-bent on ramming its opinion down any available throat. Having opposing views is natural because we are all unique individuals who look at life according to our own experiences and upbringing, but for the life of me I cannot understand why, after we have exhausted both points of view, we cannot just leave it at that. Having the last word, however, has become a national sport, presumably because the persistent person who gets in that one last stinging comment believes that means they have emerged triumphant and glorious in the online arena.
What it might really mean, though, when a FB discussion falls silent, is that everyone else is just fed up of the energy-sapping arguments and has gone off to do more interesting, productive things. Like going to the beach, or maybe even taking a nap.