Saturday, January 25, 2014

Seeking a Social Compass


It's one of those words that is much, much crueler than it looks; that when said out loud manages to sound deceptively decorous, conveying in refined syllables an emotion that could physically, metaphorically, slowly, surely crush a person with its weight; that forms the organizing theme of books, music, art, poetry, wishful thinking and waking nightmares. 

Regret. A little word for a big thing.    

And then there is embarrassment. A long, winding caterpillar of a word that perhaps overstates the impact of a minor moral transgression or social faux pas. Embarrassment is a sharp hurt that soon subsides, regret lingers long and runs deep. 

And I am really, honestly beginning to wonder, in this age of instant messaging, overflowing in-boxes, Whatsapp messages, BBM pings, 140 character tweets, long-length 'posts' and status updates - are we beginning to lose our capacity to distinguish between the two? Are we so quick to think, share, react, respond, so constantly and consistently (and superficially) aware of ourselves as social beings in the act of performing our selves, that we mistake the silliness-es and the solecisms and the stupidities as being something more? As being abiding and un-fixable and inescapable? Or, conversely, are we mistaking the undertow, the undercurrent, the quiet gnaw of regret for something smaller? Something that can be 'managed' or photo-shopped or text-ed and tweet-ed away? 

Maybe it's just a question of how our language is no longer what it used to be. How many emoticons amount to 'My bad'? How many 'Oops, my bad,' add up to the same thing as 'I'm sorry?' Or maybe it's just a pervasive lack of persistent presence. How does one identify and then undo a hurt when there are so many conversations to be managed at one time? How does one withhold explanations and rambling apologies and wait for the right time - and the right words - to say the things that need to be said, when the means to express and share are so plentiful? 
This isn't nostalgia for quieter, simpler times. It's simply honest-to-goodness confusion about what is a violation of the codes of conduct. We are evolving a grammar for our new conversational modes. But what about the manners and mores? To put it even more transparently - When it comes to all exchanges digital, what should I be embarrassed by? And what will I regret?    

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