America This Week, As Viewed Through Facebook

We all shape our perceptions around our place. Within that place, people connect. Stories unfold, and stories are retold. The state of someone’s hair qualifies their opinion. We try not to admit that part.

The internet is such a place.

It took moving to Korea to show me how much of my world is shaped by media. Within one day, I was no longer a resident of the physical US. My perceptions were no longer shaped by day-to-day life. Gas prices, the level of irritation in coffee shop lines, that first telling look on people’s faces when somebody mentioned the Middle East, had all disappeared from my viewable reality.

But one click on facebook, and they all jumped right back into place. Words. Images. Videos. News articles. All of the casual day-to-day interactions that I had used to gauge reality still popped up each hour, smiling alongside the little blue names.

This is the computer where I get my news
The seat at which I view the world. Sigh.

A lot has happened in America over the past year and I half. And I have seen it all progress alongside those little blue names.

I watched the footprints on the pier as it snowed in Huntington Beach. I saw California sink into drought beneath the buckets of the ice water challenge. I googled the word “ratchet,” and discovered that pumpkin spice lattes were something I was now supposed to judge. I saw a man who hated women gun down students one block from my favorite college burrito joint. I watched planes crash alongside Bill Cosby’s reputation. I watched Ebola fear run like fever through newsfeeds.

Then one month I saw Ferguson become the synonym for violence. I saw name after name of humans who no longer existed as they were tossed through conversations of sadness, or fear, or anger.

I see Baltimore written in flames. I see anger. I see gentle brooms, and I see strong faces.

Every single picture on my news feed told a story. Every status told an emotion. Every comment threw back another emotion. Some ended in compromise; many ended in chaos.

Living in facebook has shown me that our opinions honestly do not help. We are the generation that was taught that every thought we had was special, projected onto a social media platform that shows us how very average all of us are.

There is the answer: we are all average. I am average. You are average. Our opinions are average. This blog post is average. We are all brilliant and bizarre people in our own odd ways, but there are only so many ways to see a certain issue, and collectively we cover them all.

State your solid opinion, and somebody will agree. Somebody else will disagree. And nobody will change.

But we have the ability to use our average minds to better the world.

Special but the same
Special, but the same

How do we do this? We change. We listen instead of talk. We love first, and then hate. We look for solutions instead of posing next to problems. We weigh each injustice separately. We think about how we want our world to look, not tomorrow, but in the next year. The next ten years. The next hundred.

And then we make it happen.

The fact is, the mainstream media is just as average as all of us. I googled “news Baltimore” on Tuesday, and I saw blanket statements of violence. But the fact is that there are still elderly couples making coffee, and teenagers awkwardly texting each other, and kitchens and bookshelves and flowerpots. These moments are life, not the headlines, and they are what will continue after the new stories pass.

I see more of these images sprinkled across my newsfeed after Baltimore than I did after Ferguson. I see more people making the choice to complicate instead of simplify. I see links to support food banks for kids in Baltimore who will miss school lunches. That brings me hope.

Because beyond the faces of social media, solid reality persists. I would bet anything that there is at least one kid chilling out in a blanket fort in a Baltimore bedroom at this very moment. His real life should be our goal.

So enough with opinions. Let’s opt for action. Let’s support scholarships to diversify law enforcement and justice systems. Let’s develop programs to pair good cops with kids, and work to break down the “us vs. them” mentality through positive relationships.

Seriously, those are all the ideas I have. But you have more.

This November I was teaching my Korean sixth-graders the lesson called, “What should we do?” On a whim, I wrote the word “Ferguson” on the board and gave them the four-sentence version of the situation, then turned to the class and asked, with the usual textbook lilt, “what should we do?” And they answered. Thirty 12-year-olds, speaking about a foreign concept, in a foreign language, during the last five minutes of class, generated more original ideas than I had seen on my newsfeed all week.

12-year-olds in a second language
Simplistic, but not bad

Imagine what would happen if we turned the internet into that kind of place.


“What Should We Do?” Comment with your own ideas!

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