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In Defense of Internet Navel-Gazing and the #Nomakeupselfie

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My friend Daniel and I were texting back and forth this morning about a new book that we had both read. Well, we weren't exactly texting; we were actually sending smoke signals. There was a light breeze in the air, and his smoke signals seemed to be full of typos. It got so that I had no idea what he was talking about and I was starting to doubt he had even read the book. As it turned out, it wasn't my friend signaling me at all -- it was a brush fire beside the highway. Man, were my wires crossed or what? I'm so glad communication has evolved!

Communication between humans has been evolving right alongside Homo sapiens since before recorded history. During the time we have advanced as a species, we have refined our ability to share and process language. Even before the great leap toward visual communication via cave wall paintings, there must have been communication among humans. There would no doubt have been an accepted series of troglodytic grunts in each tribe. Different grunts, generally acknowledged to mean things like "danger" or "hunger" or "holy crap -- run for it!" At the advent of cave paintings, there would thus have also been some grunts of discontent about the negative effects that this new technology would have on, well, grunting.

This week, the Internet saw a deluge of articles attacking the latest trend in Internet slacktivism, the #nomakeupselfie. These articles have a common theme which runs through them all. The suggestion is that the Internet is turning people into navel-gazing, ineffective, self-obsessed imbeciles. The possibility that the Internet is not causing this but merely exposing it is fodder for another article. The suggestion that the kids are all wrong is the part that troubles me the most.

Digital natives are people who have grown up in a time of ubiquitous Internet usage. These people have a serious advantage over non-natives for refining their communication styles. The Internet has provided a dojo in which to train, make mistakes, learn and go on to become effective communicators. Anyone who wants to can contribute written or other content to the Internet. The can do this as much as and as often as they like and many of them are doing this unconsciously every day via social media usage.

Regular schooling can offer neither the same opportunity nor reach for similar experimentation.

So, back to slacktivism and #nomakeupselfies. I would argue that although the message appears to have fallen away in 90 percent or more of these social shares, 10 percent of them are making a positive difference toward their intended causes. By the way, I got these numbers from a piece of "outrage porn" I read this morning which spurred me to write this article. Bolstering causes is great, but it's still not the point.

The point is that the trend of the broken messaging in the #nomakeupselfie campaign has sparked a lot of conversation. Some of it is not productive, but it all contributes to the evolution of the way humans communicate with each other. It is sure to awaken critical awareness in some of the participants. Perhaps someone will pause for the first time to consider "What am I trying to say with this message?" Someone else may feel embarrassed at getting swept up in the trend without knowing more first. And of course, some trolls will say terrible things to innocent others who are just having fun with their friends. But always, in all cases, people will be growing.

As the Internet flattens the earth, ideas become our most important natural resource. We must consider communication as the pipeline by which this resource flows. A great idea cannot turn into a great action if it is not well communicated. For that reason, it is important that people take part at all levels in the sharing and discussion of ideas in order to evolve their skills as communicators. So let them share, let them make embarrassing mistakes, let them misspell words until the cows come home -- but let them grow. The kids are just fine.

Quick confession -- when Twitter came out, I thought it was stupid. I wondered what the point could be and I wondered what the effect would be on language as a whole, as people tried to fit the necessary "lulz" into 140 characters. It was this brief period of contempt that was the darkness before my personal dawn of understanding. I came to understand that compressing communication to 140 characters wasn't bad: it was just different. It may even be a point of evolution because it has caused many of us to pause and refine our message -- to focus on communicating better. To make sure we are being clear.

So let's focus more of that Internet venom onto stuff like identity theft, privacy invasion and the stealing of folks' life savings. Let's encourage people to connect, share great ideas and make the world better. Let's help them along the way, but let's save the "you-kids-get-off-my-lawn" mindset for the grouchy old neighbor in the Bermuda shorts.

P.S. - Here's my #nomakeupselfie after snowboarding at Sunshine, Alberta today. Am I doing it right?