A lot of things have started coming together for me lately — letting me see things from a perspective I haven’t seen them from before. And a recent conversation with my fiancee pulled things together even more. And I’m not sure if anyone’s listening — in fact, all things considered, it’s pretty safe to say no one is — but I still feel the need to say something. (If someone does hear, well, great!)

What I’m about to say, I don’t say lightly. I also speak with at least a modicum of knowledge of my subject matter, as the mother and aunt of people on the autism spectrum.

So here it is. Gayle and I were talking about social media’s effect on society, both as a whole and as individuals. (What follows is edited for clarity and to remove my typos, because I’m just retentive that way.)

* * * * * * *

Me: The more I look at it, the more I’m seeing a direct parallel with autism. One of the defining features of autism is sensory and mental overload — and that’s what we’re having, collectively as a society.

Gayle: [Unlimited access to information is a] double edged sword.

Me: People with autism stim, self-stimulate, to block out the barrage of sensory input they can’t filter, to control the input that reaches them and make it manageable. Sometimes it’s pointless behavior, sometimes it’s self-destructive, or at least painful. And people with Asperger’s create rigid categories that all information has to go into, regardless of whether it fits, because they’re overwhelmed by the input they receive and the categorizations are the only way they can deal with it all.

And I’m beginning to think that even tRump’s wall is a symptom that more of us are experiencing than we’d like to admit — it’s too much, and we’re starting to want to wall away the stuff we can’t deal with, the people it causes us pain to interact with.

Even those of us who love diversity and thrive on it are getting close to saturation point.

Gayle: I think I am way past saturation.

Me: I think most people are.

I wonder how many of our current problems and issues could be made bearable if people would just back the fuck off. Not that I have any brilliant ideas on how to make that happen, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.

* * * * * * *

That’s the end of that part of our conversation. It seems to me that a lot of the world’s condition right now bears a certain resemblance to the way an autistic person, or some people with Asperger’s, react/s to overstimulation. Lashing out, shutting down, melting down, just trying to make the unstoppable stop.

And communications on social media bear a LOT of resemblance to a conversation with someone with Asperger’s who hasn’t yet figured out social cues — everybody has something they want to say, something they want everyone to hear. Everybody has to have an impact. And nobody ever gets to change the subject, because the “conversation” is always there to be returned to when someone else stumbles on it.

Part of the problem is that along with the need to speak, there’s a need to be heard — and social media isn’t set up to let someone know they’ve been genuinely heard. Or at least, it’s nowhere near as good at letting someone know they’ve been heard as it is at letting them speak. So people speak more, and louder. And the ones who really need a reaction get cruel and cutting and crude, reacting to everything they come across in the most provocative and hateful way they can.

And seeing the problem doesn’t make you immune. I pass along cruelty and ridicule, and tell myself that I “only” do it when the target deserves it, and “only” pass along the really intelligent and funny cruelty, and then I wonder why I don’t feel like the loving person I want to be. I’ve been known to dive into conversations that have nothing to do with me, because I have some gem of insight I can’t imagine depriving the participants of. (This is, incidentally, different from having something genuinely helpful to say, or calling out an injustice. This is me in love with the exquisite words that flow from my fingertips. Yeah, right…)

And while I could tell you that I’m going to turn this missive out into the world to make its way or not, on its own, and never give it a second thought, that would be a Big Fib.

But it’s not so much that I want people to hear me — I want people to hear this message. I want to offer a possible way to pull us back from the brink of whatever abyss we’re staring down into. Turn down the “noise” to a level our minds can process. Be tolerant of one another’s stims. And give each other the gift of listening.

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