26 Feb The Egg Incident
All kinds of things inform the kind of citizen you turn out to be. One of my seminal moments was The Egg Incident of 1984. I was living in Wellington then, walking along Salamanca Road beside the university on one of those calm, clear spring days the Capital does rarely, but well.
A car load of what my grandmother would have called “hoodlums” drove by, hiffed an egg at me which hit me square on the chest and, shrieking with the hilarity of it all, drove on. Totally random, largely innocent (though someone might have lost an eye) and clearly hugely entertaining for them.
For me, it was devastating in the kind of way that makes you remember it 30 years on. A very close family friend had just died that afternoon and, sobbing, I was walking home from her house to my flat. I didn’t make sense that someone would throw an egg at me when my heart had just been broken.
The Egg Incident taught me that a) you shouldn’t try to make sense of things that don’t make sense; b) you don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives; and c) sometimes the stuff people chuck at you has little or nothing to do with you. It’s just about their joy at chucking something.
That’s how I think of geeks who make computer viruses. They don’t get to witness the effect of their cyber-destruction or how it affects people (deadlines missed, opportunities lost, the expense of repair) but they imagine it and that gives them a thrill.
Hateful stuff on social media is a bit like egg chucking. They can’t see or hear your reaction to what they say – only what people choose to write back – but they imagine a recipient responding with an interior, “Well played, sir,” or perhaps weeping into their pillow in the dark hours. Hey, it’s their fantasy so they get to picture it however they like.
Writing a column can be a bit like throwing an egg. I read one this week about Charlotte Dawson that I wish I could un-read because it felt so cruel. People who hardly knew Dawson – myself included – shouldn’t speculate on what led her to the choice she made on Saturday. And no-one should diminish the reality of mental illness.
What we should speculate about is what the rest of us should do. Social media – just like the village pump, town square or office water-cooler before it – can be a brutal place. Or more correctly, a place where people can be brutal.
It can also be a forum for tremendous support and kindness. I’ve seen people reach out for help on Twitter and find it – tracking down missing family after an earthquake, or somebody reading the anguish in a tweet and driving over to help a friend in crisis.
Someone in my Twitterverse last week created #ShareTheLoveTuesday, a conversation encouraging people to publically name a friend they admire. That kind of thing should go viral.