I love the following little internet abbreviation and all it means for my busy lifestyle: TLDR.
Literally: too long; didn’t read. It’s a one-sentence summary of an over-long internet post and frankly I’m pleased it exists. I mean good golly, read a whole post, digest it and come to an opinion! I don’t have time for that when I have several other tabs open with pictures of cats to look at, news sites to read and a text message to send. I’d like to see this seep into the vocabulary of people in my wider life. Can I get people in the office to use this for their passive-aggressive and meandering three-paragraph-long email about the state of the communal fridge? Here we go:
“TLDR. The fridge smells because you suck, learn to be an adult or go home.”
Ultimately I suspect we like these internet summaries, not because of a healthy desire for time-management, but because it subversively appeals to another need within us. My pride tells me my time is too valuable to take two minutes to read your thoughts without knowing if it’s worthy of my time upfront.
The more I think about it, I feel like we need to introduce a new abbreviation for our generation that meets another troubling need: TLDA. Too long, don’t agree.
What if I read a post and find that it clashes with my particular worldview? What if I waste precious seconds scanning through an article to find it’s by a conservative, or a liberal, when I don’t agree with their politics?
I usually take care to make sure this doesn’t happen by carefully choosing what I read and where. Some of the best websites even go to the trouble of adding a poll at the end of an article. They’re carefully crafted with a simple “yes” and “no” option to click. Something like: “Do you agree that this view is the only view and that other people who don’t agree are probably terrible, bad people?”
I tremble as I move the mouse over the “yes” button, clicking as fast as possible.
“98 per cent of people agree with you,” the poll answers back. Phew, I feel validated. I’m safe in the knowledge that my view is definitely correct and the sense that the other 2 per cent are cowering in embarrassment.
However, very occasionally, a cyber invasion occurs and the opposing people overwhelm the site and click me to oblivion: I feel robbed. Challenged even. How dare people think something I don’t agree with? Even worse, sometimes something I disagree with slips through, even on the safest of sites.
But if we have a helpful summary at the bottom, we can save ourselves from ever having to read something that we may disagree with, a final line of defence. I suggest it contains at least the following helpful information: definitely a summary of the author because I know that if I don’t like them, then they can’t say anything I could agree with, and definitely a summary of the opinion expressed in the article and also a graph of where it sits on the spiritual and political spectrum. I can then helpfully miss out on an article I think will upset me.
Is this really what we want our lives to be? A carefully cultivated place where you are fed the things you want to read? Do we refuse to read things that might offend us, or remove anything we ourselves post online, because it provokes too many outraged comments?
Maybe we need to acknowledge that the fabric of Christian life is made up of many different threads whose strength comes from being woven together.
My ultimate fear is that our generation is applying TLDA to Christianity; a potentially devastating move. Yes, sometimes as people we genuinely struggle to agree, but I fear that deeper still, we know that if we look too hard we may have to consider our lives and consider the validity of another’s perspective, and that is what really upsets us. It’s far easier not to hear it in the first place.
So let’s create more spaces to hear both points of view: both online and IRL. Let’s embrace a moderate debate; let’s listen, and let views that offend us stay, instead of rejecting them straight away.
To paraphrase Paul, when I was a child I drank milk, but now I’m an adult and I want to eat meat – even if sometimes it gives me righteous indigestion.