The Dark Side of Constant Connectedness
How can we trust people are who they say they are?
Not everyone behaves honestly online.
We all know this. And yet, when we place our trust in someone and the end result is deception and betrayal, it’s hard not to feel a little surprised and let down.
In response, some of us effortlessly slip into the role of the victim and co-opt the “woe is me” narrative that pitches us against absolutely everyone else. Doing so is a lot easier than asking ourselves the one question we won’t, possibly because we’re so wrapped up in our own head it doesn’t even occur to us.
Why did we choose to trust in the first place? Could it be that we did have a hand in our misfortune because our motives for trusting failed to consider the person in whom we placed our trust?
In a culture that elevates individualism to a virtue, fellow humans are commodities that deliver usefulness to us. It’s not about how much value we can add to the lives of others but about how much value they can add to ours.
Therein lies the problem.
Individualism is grabby by definition.
When our focus is “me, me, me”, we expect others to cater to us, to serve us, to enhance our person. This attitude isn’t conducive to balanced human interactions on any level, be they personal or professional.
When we approach others with the sole purpose of what they can do for us rather than what we can do for one another, we can never forge deep, meaningful bonds like trust.
But when others fail to perform as expected, we often mislabel our exploitative ways as misplaced trust. For example, when we’re not given the exposure, the validation, or the respect we believed we rightly deserved, we claim our trust has been betrayed.
But has it?
What if instead the person in whom we trusted takes us to task about our deep-seated sense of entitlement? It’s hard not to feel a little aggrieved by their refusal to, well, serve us.
People who see through others do exist and we resent them for being so perceptive, so observant, so impervious to deceit.
Although their feedback offers us an opportunity to take stock of ourselves and become more self-aware, we seldom if ever entertain it.
Because we didn’t ask for it, and because, deep down, we know they’re right and we suddenly feel exposed.
Crying wolf and getting defensive is as easy as it’s lazy.
Unlike communication and mediation, it doesn’t require taking into account others, just ourselves. We don’t have to embrace the necessary discomfort of introspection either.
Anything that doesn’t support the entitled ego’s delusions of grandeur is a threat, an unwarranted personal attack. It must be systematically called out and eradicated regardless of accuracy, invoking the clichés of victimhood.
For example, if you write online for money, fanning the flames of outrage and polarizing people is the quickest and surest way to make bank, so much so that it’s become a niche.
Conversely, producing thought-provoking content that could upend the status quo is too much risk, too much effort, too much inconvenient honesty. It remains the preserve of those for whom writing is service rather than a self-serving pursuit.
Why seek to enlighten and transcend when you can increase personal gain by playing the victim?
And so the internet becomes a schoolyard populated by cliques as the sound of constant whining drowns out interestingness.
This is on us all.
Together, we are the internet.
The internet isn’t some blurry, faceless digital entity but the giant worldwide canvas on which many of us spend the majority of our working and waking hours.
With this in mind, it stands to reason we should strive to lean toward collaboration instead of competition. That way, we might achieve something greater than the sum of its parts by putting our heads together.
Capitalism won’t allow it, and neither will individualism as some heads are simply too obsessed with profiteering.
At the slightest hint of disagreement, the money-raking machine springs to life and cranks out copy dripping with overwrought pathos and oodles of self-pity.
Designed to appeal to our sympathy, what looks like a cry from the heart is actually anything but. Often, it looks like an ad hominem attack complete with screenshots from personal exchanges, unfailingly presented without context. That this practice is both an invasion and a violation of privacy isn’t even taken into account. Instead, there’s even a term for it: dogpiling.
But if you trust someone, why on earth would you preemptively screenshot private messages exchanged in confidence?
How can we protect ourselves from those seeking to exploit us?
When we approach life as if others were out to get us, no wonder we feel lonely, disconnected, and isolated.
Here’s the thing: As long as we refuse to accept we’re all fallible and more than a little selfish in our ways regardless of where we stand on the gender spectrum — because the lack of moral probity isn’t the preserve of one particular gender — we will never be able to harness the power of our shared humanness.
We have to commit to improving how we do human, somehow.
The only way to learn is through dialogue and debate and it starts with finding the humility to accept we know even less than we think we do. In short, reflect and think then speak or write; engage rather than vilify, ask questions rather than make assumptions.
After all, this is what adults do, isn’t it?
Keeping an open mind that welcomes new information also helps, even when it contradicts our deep-seated beliefs about ourselves and the world we live in.
Much like attention, trust is a gift we shouldn’t squander on those who demand it; trust is something we earn by adding value to the lives of fellow humans just as they add value to ours, not manipulation.
Trust starts with mutual curiosity and appreciation and leads to mutual support. It needs honesty, bluntness, vulnerability, and the ability to suspend ego and judgment to grow.
Without the above, there can be no trust.
And without trust, an already fragmented society split into echo chambers stands no chance of coming together for the common good when it’s most needed.
Is this us? Is this how we want to live?
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.