Of course, the internet, social-media, is wonderfully democratic and levelling. It allows ordinary people to interact with the powerful and exalted, cross swords with them, support them, gain their endorsement.
However, the atomistic nature of online communication means that most meaningful exchanges, no matter how fleeting, are one on one, and most disagreements are duels. They play out like the meeting of Greek and Trojan heroes in The Iliad. Users sometimes stumble on opponents in the throng, and sometimes seek each other out. Then they issue individual challenges and set to.
Even positive online relationships are profoundly dysfunctional. The most rapid text-speed exchanges still have an artificial, elongated, stilted quality. Each utterance is un-naturally complete and intentional. Weird pauses are caused by the time-lapse of typing and transmission. Turn-taking is inviolable and no speech overlaps. What would, in a face to face conversation, be two people talking over each other, becomes a disordering of the sequence of exchanges, confusing and falsifying what was actually said.
Then there’s the dislocation of being in separate places and times. Without common reference points, without feedback on whether you’ve been understood, you either have to laboriously explain everything or live with the doubt.
The rich experience of being physically present with somebody else is lost – all that body language, stuttering, false starts, hesitation, facial expression, breathing, breath, tone of voice, is lost. Emotional content is decided on by the speaker (writer) in words and the crude approximations of emojis. With no other cues available, the listener (reader) is reduced to deciding between undeserved scepticism or naïve trust.
We are much more profligate in our relationships but each is critically impoverished.