One of my favorite sections of the Washington Post is "John Kelly's Washington."
From John Kelly's recent essay "Why do nasty online comments get us so riled up? It’s literally in our DNA":
...Saber-toothed tigers are rather thin on the ground anymore, so we don’t need that reflex that enables us to instantly aim our pointy stick at an approaching threat or muster the quick burst of energy required to help us run to safety.
And yet that response is still there, buried deep in the recesses of our brains. But about the only time I feel those hormones surging through my body is when I’m about to send an ill-considered e-mail message or Twitter post. Someone trolling us on social media is as close as any of us get to the stress of a predator bearing down on us on the veld....
What effect does all this contentious have on those of us who spend so much time in the online world? John Kelly states the following:
At first, I thought that my analogy — Twitter flames are today’s saber-toothed tigers — might be a little far-fetched. Then I talked to Johannes Eichstaedt, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. A thought-provoking paper he co-wrote was just published in the journal Psychological Science. By crunching data, Johannes and his collaborators were able to show that areas of the United States that express high levels of negative language on Twitter — tweets filled with expletives and hate — correlate with areas of the country that have high levels of heart disease.So, why do we continue to spend so much time in the online world? As rational creatures, we must know that too much time in the contentious online world is bad for our mental and physical health!
This doesn’t mean that Twitter trolls are dying of stress-induced heart attacks, rather that everyone who lives in a hotbed of negative emotion is affected by the overall angry vibe.
The link between stress and heart disease is well known. “We now think of chronic stress as a chronic upregulation of the sympathetic nervous system,” Johannes said.
When deployed only occasionally and as originally intended, the fight-or-flight response is a good thing. It improves your odds of surviving an attack or lifting a car off a trapped child. But being repeatedly washed by adrenaline and cortisone can damage the arteries.
Twitter, angry e-mails, noxious online comments: These can all raise the blood pressure. Of course, humans have been arguing with one another for millennia. What’s different about the digital age is that now we do it with strangers over the Internet....
Today is my sixty-third birthday, and I'm going to treat myself to some time away from the contentious online world: