Autos, Anonymity And Angst

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By JoEllen Collins

JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

Most complaints I hear from residents of the Wood River Valley, other than COVID related, are about speed or its lack on Highway 75. Having learned how to drive on the Hollywood freeway, but now afraid to navigate that same spot and no longer choosing to drive when I visit friends in Southern California, I understand the frustrations. Nonetheless, having traveled in almost unbearable traffic for the many years I taught English in Southern California, I still think we have it easy here.

However, I have noticed recently an increased volume of hostility and anger at those who either drive too slowly or too rapidly down our central road. Recently, when I upped my speed to a tad above 55 mph, a truck behind me kept honking and coming closer to me—a danger, as I couldn’t navigate to the slower lane without cutting in front of another car. Anger in this case often results in posing harm to others. I admit to sounding “like a stevedore,” as my mother used to notice, in my frustration at traffic or others’ poor driving, my use of words I never uttered in public within the interior sanctuary of my car. I still often mutter “forbidden” words if alone in the bubble of my old Ford.

Shouts, gestures and honking are signs of our frustration because we often feel OK about reacting negatively inside of our protective shell, the automobile. However, the “safety” of anonymous negativity on the screen of our private space on the computer has also contributed to an unhappy release of nastiness.

As we sit in anonymity behind the screens of our devices, we may forget that our release of nasty rhetoric is not truly hidden from others than the intended recipient. Words do hurt, as the victims of cyber bullying well understand. I know of cases of children who, in the supposed sanctity of their classroom, sit next to another child who has released hateful texts to him or her just the night before. The behavior of the bully is rewarded because, like the automobile, the computer seems like just another machine in which we can express ideas we might not utter in person.

Big Brother is here more than we may wish. There is no anonymity today, much to the dismay of people who cherish the concept of privacy. Institutions and governments are grappling with the issues of communication for all while maintaining privacy for those who choose to preserve their own space and histories. I certainly don’t have an answer.

I try, in my own writings and conversations, to remember Disney’s little Jiminy Cricket of my childhood who “sat on my shoulder” to remind my conscience to think carefully before any destructive or hateful behavior. There have been times where I have not listened to those little warnings, and I regret my actions as unhappy and negative, like gossip about someone else that is indirect but still unfair. I hope Jiminy is still sitting with me even in my bubbles.

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