Can the Festive Season Remind the Internet to do Better?

On acknowledging and honoring the invisible ones among us

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Photo by Mara Ket on Unsplash

What to do with the flurry of editorial detritus created solely to feed algorithms and maintain traffic during the festive season?

All noise, no signal; the onus is on enforced jollity, not what happens when you’re on duty or on call, or alone, or sick, or far too poor to join in the fun.

Few are the editors who will commission a piece about the trauma of being left behind at a time when humans traditionally come together. And few are the writers with the emotional intelligence to understand how our reluctance to tackle difficult issues adds to the distress of those the season erases.

Because not everyone will enjoy the holiday season; some will work, some will be alone, some will try to commit suicide. When everyone around you cozies up to loved ones and indulges, it’s easy to feel invisible if you’re not included. This is what a culture focused on capitalism and individualism does; we stuff and shop ourselves silly without a thought for those who don’t or can’t.

Even though the spirit of Christmas is allegedly about not leaving anyone behind, we only invoke it when it’s convenient for us. Or when we can derive some personal advantage, like bragging about how much money we donated to charity or how we hosted people who had nowhere to go.

Tone-deaf content abounds and the only way to stop it is to go offline altogether, leaving those for whom the internet is a lifeline to their own devices.

What if we put our heads and hearts together and committed to producing work that helps relieve seasonal pain and isolation instead?

A few heartfelt words can mean so much and a piece that does not shy away from the harsh reality of the festive season could help one person feel less alone.

Here’s the rub, though. Those of us who are familiar with the ghosts of shitty Decembers past are unlikely to ever share our experience, out of courtesy for others. We’re terrified of bumming anyone out, we don’t want to make a fuss, we don’t want to be a bother or a burden, and we absolutely don’t want anyone’s pity.

Pity is the consolation prize of emotions, an acknowledgement of sorts but so judgmental it is reductive and humiliating. Instead of offering someone a hand to hold or a listening ear, we shut them down with vague noises of commisseration and go back to our little life.

So much for fellow feeling as extolled by popular carols like “Joy to the World”; as long as we get the stuff we covet, we don’t care. Instead, we’re more interested in regifting or selling off the items we don’t want online for extra cash.

Like much of everything else in our lives, the festive season becomes purely transactional.

Because anticipation is a key component of the holiday season, we often forget that it can turn into pure dread for those unable to join in.

A firefighter on duty may not experience Christmas the same way as a senior alone in their own home but both stand a real risk of losing their life that day. A homeless person might enjoy a rare moment of joy and connection in a shelter with a hot meal but they’ll be sleeping on the street a few hours later. Paramedics, nurses, and doctors will lose patients because people die every single day of the year. But medical staff will put on a brave face at the detriment of their own mental health when they get home so as not to spoil their family’s holiday.

The above are but a tiny selection of the many people who are seldom on our radar during the festive season unless we cross paths with them. And yet, together we are the internet and the content we produce and consume is a reflection of what our priorities are and what and whom we care about.

Do we want a digital version of the Sun King’s Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles or do we want the internet to be the tool that incubates a more caring society?

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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