The Internet is, as we all know, an excellent medium for a lot of things. It’s certainly expanded my mind in ways I wouldn’t have anticipated, and I’ve created a lot of great relationships with people all over the world through the fact that we can communicate online. And one of the great things about it is immediacy; I can chat instantly with someone in Australia, or Korea, or Britain, or wherever. I can email something in a flash, take a picture and show it to the world in less than five minutes.
But this immediacy also creates a very dangerous trap, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the realm of online social justice work. That trap is the one which states that everything must be immediate. It’s got to happen right now. You need to respond instantly. If you don’t, you’re ignoring the issue, or you’re letting it escalate, or you’re hiding from the problem.
This is a problem.
It’s a problem for a whole lot of reasons, and a lot of these reasons intersect with social justice issues in a major way, which is why it is surprising to see people in the social justice community being most strident in the demands to do something RIGHT NOW you must respond IMMEDIATELY. This causes many things to blow up to a spectacular degree when they should not, and it creates a lot of drama, infighting, blogwarring, and other unnecessary things which I prefer to stay out of as much as possible.
Take the fact that people live all over the world. If I leave a comment on an Australian blog right now demanding an immediate response, I’m not going to get one. Why? Because most of Australia is asleep. As well they should be. When you’re dealing with people in different time zones, it’s sometimes easy to forget that a comment left at a reasonable hour your time, an email sent when you are awake, a critical post uploaded at your prime time, is something that someone else may not even see for hours, let alone be able to respond to.
People in the United States tend to center themselves in online discourses and I’ve noticed that many people assume that the default identity is as someone in the United States. This is in fact not true; we don’t make up a dominant percentage of Internet users, even if it sometimes feels like it, and demanding that things be handled on United States time is just unreasonable. (Especially since even within the United States, there is a lot of disparity in time zones.)
Disability also plays a huge role in the ability to respond to things. I, for example, have a really hard time processing comments, which is in part why I do not participate in very many comment threads. If something happens on a website in the comments, I am not going to know about it. Likewise, when I get a comment on a site which I write for which I need to respond to, I can’t handle it right away. I need to think out my response with care, and I need breathing space, because that is how my brainmeats work.
When I am pressured to do something right now, to respond immediately, things tend to blow up in my face. It’s one reason I started making it very clear that I don’t deal with questions/criticism/comments on Twitter. The medium is too short and too fast for me. I got hopelessly snared in very ugly things before I recognized that it’s not a medium I can use for that type of thing. And the same holds true for many people with disabilities.
If you have, say, chronic fatigue syndrome, you don’t have the ability to read through scores of comment threads, blog posts, Twitter exchanges, and so forth to put together the pieces of a puzzle. To figure out where something went off the rails. And if you try, you do so in full awareness that while you are expending huge amounts of energy trying to understand a situation so that you can respond to it, other people are piling on and the situation is being made worse. Because people think that since you didn’t respond immediately, obviously you are not planning to, and thus the best approach is to shame you and to jump to conclusions.
Class issues are also highly relevant to the dangerous trap of RIGHT NOW. Some people can’t access Internet at work and thus have no way to respond to things which come up during their working hours. Other people don’t have Internet at home or work and rely on public libraries, Internet cafes, and so forth to communicate. They have to budget their time because there is limited time available and that means they often can’t respond to something for several days.
I’ll tell you something about people who can’t/don’t respond immediately to things. These things eat at them. They lie awake thinking about them. They are frustrated by their inability to respond. And people piling on and making endless demands don’t actually make this any easier. In fact, they make it harder, because the waters become muddied. People start to forget the core of the issue. The situation spirals out of control because people fed upon and magnified it.
All because someone could not respond immediately.
The press for an immediate response is understandable, especially because people are used to the Internet and the instantaneous nature of communication. I, too, have fallen into the dangerous trap of RIGHT NOW, of needing immediate answers, of demanding an instant response, of assuming that because something hasn’t been responded to in 24 hours, it won’t be.
Something people seem to forget is that they are dealing with other human beings.
I’ll leave you with this:
Reasonable time frames lead to reasonable responses. Unreasonable time frames lead to reactionary responses.
Which one is it that you think is more effective? (Anna)