Class Struggle
GQ India|November 2021
Social media seems like a rudeness machine. But it could push us toward a more thoughtful future
LAURENCE SCOTT

I was nosing around Facebook not long ago, doing the opposite of minding my own business, when I came to a stranger’s post, visible via a mutual friend. It began with the word “Warning”. My disinhibited scrolling self reacts to such admonitions like teens in a movie react to “DANGER” signs on a rusty chain-link fence. I flung down my bike, turned my baseball cap backward, and into the abandoned mine I went.

“Warning”, the stranger had written. “This post could be a trigger for the trying to conceive/ miscarriage community.” I belong to neither community, and as I clicked to read the whole story I felt an uneasy pulse of social media sympathy—part goodness, part gossip.

But at the bottom of the mine shaft, it turned out, was a surprise party with cake and balloons. My stranger was having a baby, after much difficulty. I rearranged my condolences face into my congratulations face, although both were really the same scroller’s face, simultaneously avid and blank. I had been wrong-footed, and at a party no one had invited me to.

I’ve been keeping an eye on online warnings for a while. I even check the little red flags that Netflix puts at the entrance to every show. (“Rude behaviour” is my favourite.) The stranger’s pregnancy announcement was the first time I had seen a warning against someone else’s happy ending. On social media, we inevitably barge into other people’s days. We set off fireworks at funerals and ask funeralgoers to like our fireworks. But the stranger’s post was fully alert to how we live today in each other’s pockets and, by extension, in each other’s faces. It struck me as supremely, unusually tactful.

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