Health

What if the an­grier we be­come about ev­ery­thing, the less we re­ally care about any­thing?

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Kather­ine Gougeon

Our so­cial me­di­a­cen­tric lives have brought about a whole new rage. But is it real?

One minute we’re fu­ri­ous about the tone-deaf, ill-ad­vised use of a re­al­ity-TV star in a protest-themed Pepsi com­mer­cial, the next we’re an­gry about the United Air­lines CEO who stood be­hind his em­ploy­ees but in a way that re­vealed his ar­ro­gance and lack of em­pa­thy to­ward pas­sen­gers. Then, just as we at­tempt to catch a yoga breath, our Face­book feed in­forms us that the Globe and Mail jour­nal­ist who got sus­pended for at­tempt­ing to breast­feed a stranger’s baby at a party has been re­in­stated. And our col­lec­tive bile rises.

Once re­served for po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues of se­ri­ous so­ci­etal con­se­quence (think seg­re­ga­tion and lynch­ing), pub­lic out­rage has be­come the knee-jerk re­sponse to ev­ery­thing from Bev Oda, the cab­i­net min­is­ter who ex­pensed a $16 or­ange juice, to Beauty

and the Beast’s LeFou, Dis­ney’s first gay char­ac­ter. No trans­gres­sion is too small, or too per­son­ally in­signif­i­cant, to es­cape our ea­ger wrath and un­con­trol­lable urge to share it, on­line and off. Like the ouroboros, the mytho­log­i­cal ser­pent that sur­vives by con­sum­ing its own tail, out­rage is a self-per­pet­u­at­ing cy­cle that both in­vig­o­rates and de­pletes us.

This cy­cle, en­abled by the im­me­di­acy and anonymity of the In­ter­net, is easy enough to map out. Stud­ies, like the one con­ducted in 2013 by the Bei­hang Univer­sity in China, which tracked mes­sages on Weibo (the Chi­nese ver­sion of Twit­ter), found that sad sto­ries were less likely to snag shares and, there­fore, they’d die on the so­cial me­dia vine. Anger, on the other hand, was shown to be a high­arousal state that fired up the de­sire to share. The in­tense so­cial me­dia back­lash, in­clud­ing hor­ri­fied Twit­ter re­ac­tions, around the Pepsi com­mer­cial in which Kendall Jen­ner aban­dons a mod­el­ling shoot to join a protest march, for ex­am­ple, re­sulted in the ad be­ing pulled within hours of its on­line re­lease, even though it cost mil­lions to pro­duce.

Com­bine the ease of tweet­ing your con­dem­na­tion for #Ken­dal­lPepsi, the rush of get­ting in­stant re­in­force­ment from your on­line com­mu­nity and the pos­si­bil­ity of in­flu­enc­ing an out­come and it’s easy to see how in­dig­na­tion can be­come ad­dic­tive.

That’s some­thing that David Brin, an Amer­i­can sci­en­tist and best­selling au­thor who speaks reg­u­larly on top­ics re­lat­ing to tech­nol­ogy and so­ci­ety, knows all about. He goes so far as to sug­gest that moral su­pe­ri­or­ity has an ad­dic­tive qual­ity, trig­ger­ing an en­dor­phin re­lease that peo­ple start to crave. “It feels good to think you’re so right and ev­ery­one else is so wrong,” he says. While the health risks associated with chronic anger are well-doc­u­mented, in­clud­ing a higher risk for heart dis­ease and di­a­betes, Brin the­o­rizes that, for some, moral out­rage may work more like a tonic. “Ag­i­tat­ing for a cause you vig­or­ously be­lieve in—like hu­man rights or sav­ing the whales—can give your life mean­ing and even lead to pub­lic ac­co­lades,” he says. »

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