Digital Comfort Food

Rather than write another commentary on a recent event, or a critique on some new internet privacy issue, I’ve decided to write about a recent “shower thought” that I had a few days ago.

It was triggered by a Buzzfeed headline I saw as I’d skimmed through my Facebook timeline: “17 Reasons Why Jaden Smith Restores Our Faith In Humanity Everyday”. At first, I didn’t really pay any attention to it because I am by no means a Jaden Smith fan and I generally don’t like to give Buzzfeed any attention for their listicles based on my own stubborn principles. But I began to see that phrase—“restores our faith in humanity”—over and over and over in the following days.

I then went back to that Jaden Smith article. Apparently, the son of Will and Jada Smith had just celebrated his 17th birthday, and to celebrate the occasion Buzzfeed decided to compile a series of 17 Tweets and Instagram photos that shows….errrr….uhhhhh….I’m not quite sure what. By the end of the list, not only had I not gleaned any information worth keeping in my noggin, I’d failed to see the point of the list as a whole and how it was supposed to “restore my faith in humanity.” I began to search for more instances of writers using that particular phrase to draw readers and viewers towards their content.

For the sake of irony, here’s a brief list I’ve made compiling links that lead to lists that others have made compiling instances of what comes down to “random acts of kindness” (but in some cases, these are far from “random”):

25 PHOTOS THAT WILL RESTORE YOUR FAITH IN HUMANITY

31 Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity In 2014

Restoring Faith In Humanity | Real Life Heroes | Acts Of Kindness (video)

Here’s an entire collection of YouTube videos specifically geared towards helping the homeless

20+ Photos That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity

As I skimmed through picture after picture, and video after video, I couldn’t help but wonder what the real reason is for the existence of these kinds of lists. I went over to Know Your Meme, a site that’s almost as dangerous as TV Tropes in terms of how much time you can spend going down countless rabbit holes, to see when the phrase started to see widespread use on the Internet. It seems that “faith in humanity restored,” and variations of this line, started to explode in 2010 and 2011 when articles and videos with titles similar to the examples above started to pup up everywhere. What isn’t clear, however, is whether or not the phrase has come into widespread use in response to a particular event, mentality, or overall outlook on life in the 21st century.

What if there is some issue with our perception of the world around us that makes us feel like there is a problem with how we treat each other on a widespread scale, and we desperately need evidence that this is not the case?

As I tried to figure this out, I started to think about how these instances of “faith in humanity restored” were acknowledged in the pre-Internet age. One example that immediately comes to mind (because I’m a history nerd) is the Christmas Truce of 1914. On Christmas Eve, British and German troops laid down their arms and set aside their differences to celebrate the holidays together. Carols were sung and games were played, and for a brief moment both the horrors and madness of war faded away. You can imagine my amusement when I scrolled to the bottom of the History Channel’s online description of the truce to find a familiar phrase…

“The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.”

To me, this represents one of the ultimate “faith in humanity restored” moments, a literal pause during a war for a moment of peace, no matter how brief it was. That’s not to diminish more recent examples that are much simpler in terms of their impact and the circumstances that resulted in the event taking place. About two weeks ago, I watched a video of bystanders and marine conservationists saving a shark that had beached itself on the sand. Of course, one of the top YouTube comments was “Faith in humanity restored,” followed by a response from another commenter that said, “wtf really? from people saving a ONE shark which happened to be stranded on the beach? are you going to lose that precious faith of yours again when you see ISIS beheading videos?”

The problem, I quickly realized, was that the events depicted in the more recent articles are things I’d expect people to do for one another. There may be a photo that shows a young man standing up on a bus to allow an older woman to have a seat, but that’s not the kind of thing I really care to see online. I would hope that the morals and manners taught during our childhoods would carry over into adulthood in such a way that it is normal, not something to be pointed out or caught on camera in the wild.

I then figured that it may just be a result of the widespread use of cameras and cellphones to capture even the most mundane aspects of daily life, and kind gestures from stranger to stranger inevitably fall into the category of “things that should be catalogued so that others acknowledge their kindness.” Hell, Twitter’s new live video-streaming app called Periscope has been adopted by users seeking to share the contents of their fridges, of all things.

But what if the issue is deeper than that? What if there is some issue with our perception of the world around us that makes us feel like there is a problem with how we treat each other on a widespread scale, and we desperately need evidence that this is not the case? Just as Facebook tends to represent the best aspects of ourselves, the news that we ingest on a daily basis is usually skewed towards the morbid, the depressing, the alarming, and the fear-inducing. Airline disappearance updates, theater shootings, parents leaving their kids in their cars in the middle of August, political scandals and celebrity downfalls (cough cough Bill Cosby)….the list goes on.

The majority of the posts I viewed that were aimed at “restoring our faith in humanity” involved a person (or people) helping a person (or people). I think that the people who become disillusioned by the potential for good in our society based off of what they see in the news is what drives them towards the types of posts that Buzzfeed pumps out almost every day. It serves as a counterbalance, and even if many of the examples show acts of kindness or generosity that don’t necessarily need to be filmed or shot, the comfort in knowing that that type of thing is happening every day (despite what’s happening in the news) is good enough, for some. If you take away the sensationalized headlines and pessimistic world views in the media, I’m not sure if that counterbalance would be necessary.

This post was more of a musing than anything else, on my part. Some food for thought. I found myself trying to think of how people from the early-20th century (and earlier eras) would try and catalogue the Golden Rule in action, and I realized that it may have just been the default behavior for many people. Sure, there were bad people out there in the world, but the actions that people now seek to find in Buzzfeed listicles are the same actions and gestures that have been taking place for years. I doubt that there’s a clear cut answer that explains the prevalence of these uploads, but it’s an interesting phenomenon nonetheless.

And yet here I am, sitting on my couch, looking at a picture of a woman who visits local humane shelters to read to the dogs and smiling at such an adorable scenario.

Faith in humanity restored.

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