Conversations, discussions, arguments: these used to be part of spending time with other people, enjoying their company. Anyone who has lived completely alone – days and nights without any meaningful human interaction – can tell you how spiritually nourishing it is just to be in the physical presence of people who like and accept you, hearing their light-hearted talk and occasionally joining in, basking in their phatic utterances: the murmurs of agreement and appreciation that show they’re listening. It is so natural that you don’t notice the good it is doing you. Only afterwards, you find you are in an inexplicably good and contented mood. Something that had been missing, leaving an inflamed, poisonous cyst of absence, making everything fraught and distressing, has been restored to you. Effortlessly.
None of these restorative qualities can be found in online interactions. There is no phatic talk, of course, no warm human presence, no breath except your own, only the bleak silence of being alone, as you compose your next message uninterrupted and unguided.
A huge amount, perhaps the majority, of human talk is a celebration of togetherness but all social media really allows you to do is leave messages of content. It’s like having a conversation with a flat-mate by leaving post-its on the fridge. (“Please stop stealing my milk. By the way, how are you?”) There is no point in conversation for its own sake, under these circumstances, so you need to have something important to say, some urgent information to impart, otherwise your messages seem utterly inane and pointless. Online talk is stripped bare of all human warmth. It is no wonder that it turns so often to hate-filled abuse.