As human beings, we’ve been blessed with the ability to think, reason, and process through many subjects and situations. Sometimes we get easy things to deal with, like whether to make oatmeal from scratch or pour a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Other things, like our reaction to technology that allows us to send texts by merely blinking our eyes, might be a different story. But as more and more of our daily allotment of news, culture, and entertainment is pushed to the internet (such as this post, for instance), people increasingly want to make immediate reaction to whatever is seen.
And why not? In this day and age of people wanting to have their material seen by as many eyeballs as possible, numerous websites and blogs have resorted to various methods to entice clicks. Top 10 lists, quizzes, misleading headings, and the infamous title-that-tells-a-sappy-story-in-two-sentences-and-uses-the-word-I-which-is-a-no-no (used by tons of sites, including a pet food blog that gets tons of exposure for posting viral videos that don’t even involve pets) are examples of how it’s done nowadays.
The problem is this: when opportunities arise for conversation (particularly on controversial topics), we, in general, have forgotten to think before we speak. This is something I struggle with daily. I do admit that having a computer screen in front of me makes things 1000% easier than verbally talking to someone as I can type something, think about it, and edit (if necessary) before hitting the send button. Verbal words aren’t as easy to take back.
Yet I see on a daily basis that when a topic or news story of interest is posted, people will start typing without thinking. That almost invariably gets them into trouble. Someone will misread or misunderstand the comment, take offense, and fire off a response that starts something. Or multiple people will read the comment wrong and gang up on the person. The person’s next step then becomes critical as to how the situation will end:
- Sometimes the commenter will respond, clarify their position, and make things better for all.
- Sometimes the commenter will respond, clarify their position, and make things worse (or exponentially worse).
- Sometimes the commenter will respond, attack one or more of the responders, and make things worse (or exponentially worse).
- Sometimes the commenter will apologize and the responders will attack for the boneheaded comment, then stop.
- Sometimes the commenter will apologize and the responders will forgive, then stop.
- Sometimes nothing will be done, and the comments will stop.
- Sometimes nothing will be done, and the comments will get worse.
- Sometimes it will turn out that the original comment was intended just to troll others, which is a bad situation in its own right, especially for a Christian to do.
Of course, there can be more options that these, but you get the idea. One—just one! —act of typing without thinking can potentially lead to a whole lot more than the typing person bargained for.
And yet this happens all the time.
I’m reminded constantly when I’m anywhere near social media or a blog of what James shared in the Bible:
Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison (James 3:4-8 NASB).
The tongue has been called a lot of things, but a fire is extremely appropriate when it comes to the words we say or type. Here in water-starved California, one spark set off in the wrong place is enough to trigger a blaze that can consume thousands of acres of woodland. If the winds are heavy enough, the fire can move fast enough to make its containment extremely difficult.
In the early days of the Internet, once a comment was posted online, it was impossible to take back. There simply wasn’t a delete option. Thus, extra caution had to be taken before responding to what felt like a criticism of one’s choice of activities for the upcoming weekend. Thankfully, most forms of social media now have an edit feature or the option of removing the post altogether (and in all cases, the nuclear option of deleting the whole account).
While having the ability to take a mulligan on comments is well and good, it is not foolproof. Nearly all electronic devices also have the ability to collect a screenshot of what the user is viewing at any given time. This means that if you were, in anger, to post a comment that was rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, leave it up for 2 minutes, then decide to remove it, there’s the distinct possibility that somebody could in those 2 minutes take a screenshot of the comment and save it for potential use at a later point in time. Sadly, this happens quite a bit in real life. Typing without thinking gets people in significant amounts of trouble, ends marriages, disintegrates friendships, causes people to lose their jobs (even from global companies), and much more.
James was definitely on to something.
Perhaps it’s a good idea for us to take a few seconds after typing our thoughts out about something (controversial or otherwise) to reflect on what we’ve written:
- Maybe we can check it for spelling and grammar errors, making sure the caps lock is not on (screaming tends to be frowned upon in real life, you know).
- Maybe we can check it for possible factual errors (sometimes, a simple Google or Bing search is all that is necessary to prevent having to type a future “I’m sorry” post and have to deal with potential issues).
- Maybe we can see if our comment responds accurately to the person’s original statement.
- Maybe we can see if our response is one that is going to build others up instead of tearing them down (see Ephesians 4:29). Even if we have something negative to say, we can do it in a way that is helpful, respectful, and constructive.
- Maybe we can pray for the message to make the connection God needs it to make in the lives of those who read it.
- Maybe we can take a deep breath and count to 10 before clicking the Post button.
- Maybe we can do all of these things—every time.
As ambassadors of Christ, people are watching you at all times, waiting to see how you live life Sunday-Saturday. They’re also watching online to see how you live your virtual life.
Make sure the two match up, one keystroke at a time.