In a world where feelings towards people who participate in the media and things that are only meant to complement our lives are pushed to our daily routines like they’re supposed to be priority, it’s hard to tell if you’re really enjoying the time you spend with your own devices. We should add, more people participate in the media than ever before, which would be great, if more things to buy didn’t come in the same pack, within this sort of democratic space where everyone can introduce themselves and start a new, possibly lasting friendship. Maybe some of us ignore the fact that access to technology isn’t suddenly universal just because it’s the 21st century, but it does count when you approach the question with the mindset that newer generations have adapted to virtual possibilities (excuse the redundancy) and even newer ones can’t look at life without them; but the discussions we need to be having are probably around how we’d describe each of them: a gamer is not my new best friend, a serial liker isn’t my best chance at finding true love, a user with lots of random numbers isn’t even real, and so on. Because the platforms we use ask us to describe ourselves, they have a lot of information about us; but regardless of how they use it (of course, they sell ads, but they also might help us connect with people), we’re in control of how we present ourselves. Again, the problem is going further: we’re not interested in talking about what to say on the internet, we should be focusing on what to say to whom, as well as what we don’t wanna hear, read or see. Example that might be useful: Tinder asks what your college education is. Does that make an impact on my future romantic relationships? If I don’t want to disclose it, I can just skip. But that’s a choice I’m making based on a suggestion by the platform. Not everyone uses Tinder, by the way. On a different level, lots of young people write where they study on their profiles, and when they’re graduating. If that works for them, fine. But you also see more and more people promote themselves using one hashtag after another in search of an expanded network instead of their inner circle. The problem: it’s all about image, not things I want to talk about because I care about them. With that in mind, I’ll say a few words about 4 verbs in English that should be familiar to anyone speaking a different language, observing the nuances in how they’re used, not just grammatically speaking (when you like something so much you have to be excited in public, you’re using an adverb of intensity) but also ways we can use language to avoid a possible misunderstanding, sound more polite or careful about how we make our feelings explicit.
“I love watching TV!”
Before the internet, TV was definitely what you’d call mainstream. But it didn’t go anywhere: every channel has a diverse set of options to the general audience, and how they’ve developed is a side discussion. I can watch live sports broadcasts or a debate with the candidates for a government position; I can watch a movie that sold a lot of tickets or an interview with a movie director, then put on the news and learn about an issue based on what elected officials and specialists are saying. The examples are many, of course. How mainstream networks maintained their programs and schedules for decades is now in the subconscious of entire populations, as well as the people on camera every day and their roles, not to mention the ads. But something happened very recently, and we’re still dealing with the effects: the internet made those content consumers new content producers, massively altering how media was thought about and assimilated, as well as our relationship with it. Of course, linguistically speaking, nobody would say they love watching TV. But they’ll definitely tell you what they think about a show, or a sports team, an actor or actress. Unpopular opinion: I love the piano intro on Will and Grace, but I’m not the biggest fan of the show, to be honest. Mad About You? Another story. But that’s because I grew up with Sony on TV, here in Brazil. The references are completely different. And maybe that’s a good example: if it’s foreign but also from a different period, nobody can relate — except your inner circle, or “bubble”, as they say it. I could totally start a conversation with a musician friend who likes Led Zeppelin because of the slides: we’d have something in common, though I’m a bigger fan of grooves, and someone else could say it’s all about the powerful vocals, and maybe another friend would point out the bass lines are totally underrated or something. Outside the music bubble, you’re likely to find someone who enjoys slides and started to feel this way because of Breaking Bad. Or South Park. Do you see how these things are different? Today, it’s like relating to a story on Law and Order SVU and having someone comment: “oh yeah, from TikTok”. But not necessarily do we need to take things to extremes in terms of what we know and other people don’t. Which is why, when you’re expressing your feelings towards something, you should keep conversation going exploring the topic, not just say “get outta here” if they don’t feel the same way.
“I hate waking up early”
Better to bond with someone who shares a preference than to tear down someone else’s. Being up late at night is not something all of us can do, because we have responsibilities and things we need to start working on early in the day. When you get used to it, you feel better as you’re being productive and useful (I swear I’d love to quote from someone here), but not having to set the alarm and take your shower half conscious is a totally different life. You sleep as much as you want, and the day starts when it starts. People hate getting interrupted, denied a chance to do what they really enjoy or just not having much choice on what they wanna do; on the other hand, you’ll learn as you renounce to certain things so you can maintain the essential. Your kid says they hate cabbage? Maybe later on they’ll do some research and find out how good it can be for their health, and change their minds. But unfortunately, some of the feelings of hatred we see on the internet aren’t towards the taste of food. Things need to be fixed, and they say they’re working on it. The teenager who hates pervs is not the same as the Republican who hates immigrants, but if you’ll excuse me, there’s gray areas. When you don’t enjoy the experience you’re having online, you have tools you can use, some of them already available when you opt in on the platform’s terms. What we all expect is that the people who click to hide an ad or to block someone from interacting are going to be able to focus on what they really want, and develop a sense that ignoring issues is valid, but knowing what to say when they’re not happy with what they see is even more important, however exhausting at times.
“I agree that we need change”
When people can convince us that what they’re saying is important (whether it’s a tweet or a 2 hour presentation on YouTube), we show support by liking and subscribing or following. We also share and comment. That’s not, however, a magic formula for success, especially because we’re interested in the discussion, and while there’s a number of people who might be genuinely fishing for likes, as we say, someone might be daring to ask uncomfortable questions, and we tend to ignore those. Agreeing means you can follow up, but not necessarily. Next time you hear about an issue, maybe you’ll say this video or story explained how it really works, so you’ll recommend it. Not an easy thing to do when you think about the big picture, and certainly not common when you think about leadership.
“I respectfully disagree”
Respect is the basis of life in society. Agreeing is something else. I’ll always respect my family, but definitely not agree with them on every single issue. We tend to stay closer to the people we respect and agree with, but eventually we’ll learn to respect those who have divergent opinions. Some people have played with the notion that being authentic is saying whatever you want without care for the reception of your words. That lays the ground for the naturalization of disrespect, which is certainly a problem we need to tackle. No, we shouldn’t expect that in order to be respected you need to vote for the same person, listen to the same artists, eat the same food, read the same books or watch the same stuff as I do so we can successfully avoid confrontation; what we should bear in mind is that confrontation and debate are different concepts. Debating is discussing ideas; confronting is asking directly for an explanation about your actions. Some confrontation isn’t just words, and that’s precisely the issue. We all need to acknowledge that what we say and do has an effect on people, and society responds to these. The key is to find common ground and work on developing and improving, as opposed to highlighting our differences and working on intensifying them — unless we think something is always bad and cannot be reproduced.
There’s a lot of ways you can say you don’t like something. “What you did here was great, but I was thinking you could add more of this aspect because of this and that”: a good way to give feedback on a project. “I don’t mind it, but not everybody thinks like me”: a good way to point out an inconvenience. “It’s freaking perfect, I love it, you’re amazing”: a good way to emphasize how you feel about something and also make someone feel valued. In a time where conversation seems to be fading out, it’s important we understand how to reclaim it so we can build a future dialogue, instead of future disputes.