They say the pen is mightier than the sword. The computer keyboard is mightier than the pen, because of its reach, influence, and speed. One could then argue the computer keyboard is mightier than a nuclear weapon.
Every keystroke has a corresponding ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) code, which is at the root of nearly all social media interaction. Therefore, I submit ASCII characters have the potential to be a weapon of mass destruction—ASCII WMD.
Harnessing the power of the atom—for good or evil—can light and power a nation or obliterate civilization. The same is true with the use of words. Armed with a physical—not metaphorical pen—the ability to reach a wide audience takes much more time, if ever. Today, the archaic pen is more like a sword, best suited for individual face-to-face combat. ASCII is more like an impersonal nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Sitting at one’s keyboard, tapping out a string of ASCII characters, linked to any number of social media platforms, a message can be launched with anonymity and reach the global screens of millions in less time than it takes an ICBM to travel halfway round the planet. Unlike the ICBM, of which no good can come, an ASCII message can spread praise, support, and hope, but it can also be a powerful WMD, showering a rain of textual destruction on the intended target.
Social media with its protective walls of anonymity allow individuals with little impulse control to hurl in an instant anything that comes to their minds. Some people choose to savage those they disagree with by using the most vile and hurtful language possible, intending to hurt and maim their intended victim. Cruel social media bullying has actually taken real lives.
In hopes if diminishing the threat from nuclear weapons and other WMDs, people gather together to discuss treaties and restraints in hopes of preserving the peace and humankind. But where are the great efforts to diminish the threat from ASCII WMDs? Words have the power to destroy and divide humanity. Civil discourse seems rare, as textual warfare has become a series of assaults launched from ASCII keyboards, making heavy use of the F-bomb and other negative terms, with the intention of cutting down those who disagree, silencing debate, and marginalization.
The shield of anonymity makes the weak-minded bold. The impersonal communication of social media invites the worst to surface. People will say things online they would never say in person, for fear of a punch in the mouth. Here’s a suggestion for the tech geniuses. Wire the keyboards for electroshock. Add a new icon to social media, the lightning bolt. When someone receives a nastygram, selecting the lightning bolt, just like Zeus, will fire back a finger numbing shock to the sender. This would be like the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction that prevented nuclear holocaust during the cold war. Sigh…if only.
In reality, our only salvation against ASCII WMD attacks is a return to civility and better impulse control, coupled with an application of the Golder Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Kindness and thoughtfulness would go a long way in the highly polarized and charged world of social media. I suppose, we can always hope.