Opinions, Column

Behind A Wall Of Anonymity, Our Worst Tendencies Come Forth (Or, Our Sacrifice To The Yak-Gods)

Many others before me have taken up arms against Yik Yak. I could dedicate my entire column to an angry invective against this latest variation on the bathroom stall, but this has already been done, and you would probably stop reading if I did. Neither of us want that. I admit that I don’t have Yik Yak on my phone, and I believe that there is a special circle of digital hell reserved for apps like this one. In spite of the potential for users to flood the feed with positive comments, it’s well documented that this low-energy, damaging garbage chokes out the little flowers of good. What I want to know is, why is this app so appealing to high school and college-aged students? Why, in spite of the chaos they create, do Yik Yak and other similar anonymous message boards continue to flourish? What impulse is it satisfying in our lives?

RELATED: Our Battle Over Privacy

We are capable of terrible, blood-curdling ideas. We probably think an absurd number of judgmental thoughts each day. Just this morning, I was quite grateful
that my own internal chatter couldn’t be heard—it wasn’t the prettiest. Being human entails the process of learning to regulate these thoughts and act on the positive ones. Yik Yak and its cousins—even the deathless practice of slander—are not the cause of our ill-begotten ideas, just the latest vehicle for them. A few critics of Yik Yak that I’ve read were scandalized by the content spewing from the “enlightened” generation that we are, and they intimated that social media and the applications themselves are responsible for the apparent flowering of cruelty among the young. Nope. We’re [messed]-up no more or less than those before us. These days, we just have more elaborate veneers of political correctness to hide the grime. And, perhaps more importantly, we have easier ways to spread the grime when we aren’t trying to hide it.

The value of Yik Yak is, once more, its anonymity. No one in her right mind would publicly divulge the words said between two ears in a moment of anger or sadistic pleasure. But we are a group of well-trained over-sharers. Fortunately, most of our energy is sublimated through manicuring LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, but what to do about the stuff we can’t put there?

I doubt that many high school and even college students, upon having a clever but cutting idea, stop and reflect, “should I be thinking this way?” Our minds are still loose canons in matters of self-regulation. Most make the (often unconscious) calculation, “where can I put that?” Up to the Yak-gods it goes. The mind is satisfied—I’ve made my joke, no one will know it was me, and maybe I’ll get the self-esteem boost of a few hundred likes (or whatever the hell the approval system is called). I would like to call this the “Frankenstein Solution.”

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in a nutshell, revolves around the story of a wacked scientist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who creates a monstrous creature from inanimate body parts. When the monster rises from the table, Dr. Frankenstein cannot believe what he has birthed, and so flees from his handiwork. The monster is a living, feeling being, however, and retreats into the wilderness upon being so abjectly rejected.

We’ve all had Frankenstein moments. We’ve created something—usually a paper or another assignment—that becomes atrocious in spite of our best intentions to bring something beautiful to life. Or, we’ve allowed something monstrous—words, actions, feelings—to escape us even though they are not representative of our good natures and minds. Yik Yak is the “Frankenstein Solution” because, through it, we are allowed to engender our capacities for ugliness without the responsibility of authorship. Our monsters may run amok in the community and maim our peers, but it is “Okay” because our names aren’t attached to these children. Freedom to create, devoid of all consequences—all things are permitted.

A word of caution to us all, though: at the conclusion of Frankenstein, the monster pursues its creator to the far reaches of the North Pole. Both end up dead. If we cannot find it in ourselves to let Yik Yak run dry and shrivel out of our lives, then let us pray that our nameless monsters cannot find their way back to us. Lord knows they’ve managed to find other casualties.

Featured Image by Jordan Pentaleri / Heights Editor

October 23, 2014

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