Laura is a freelance writer living in Florida. She has a Master's degree in English.
In the beloved Back to the Future film series, the audience sees, at different times in space and time, both George and his son Marty McFly become the victims of Biff’s bullying and harassment. In movies, the good guy (almost) always wins. So, in the end, the audience is treated to the sight of Biff in his rightful place, waxing the McFlys’ cars.
But in reality, sometimes the bully does win and the results can be horrific and devastating. Clearly, some forms of bullying have been around a long time. But is modern bullying getting worse?
The More Things Change
In our modern world, everything happens quickly and we’ve gotten used to that. We get our food fast and our information even faster. We speed down the road or use high-speed mass transportation. Technology is changing monthly if not weekly. Phones and computers are already outdated by the time we purchase them. In a world of instant everything, our connection with each other has become more and more tangled. We check our phones, computers, or tablets when we first get up and when we’re heading to bed. The smartphone we carry in our pockets has more capability than the computers most of us were using just ten years ago.
The More They Stay The Same
Bullies are certainly not a modern phenomenon. According to a 2011 Scientific American article, bullying has its origins in our very evolutionary biology. In the article, Hogan Sherrow defines bullying as a form of intimidation and notes that “bullying itself is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and predates our own species.”
Sherrow asserts that human bullying has evolved partly because of our ability to convey more complicated and abstract ideas through language. Through this ability, bullying has become a deep-rooted part of our culture.
So why does the bullying problem seem to be more intense now than a decade or two ago? Is it just public perception? Are we getting better awareness and better coverage of the issue?
Technology As a Weapon
But Dr. Bonnie Lynn Wright notes that, while bullying may not be as prevalent, technology broadens a bully’s audience and allows him or her to “remain anonymous and therefore free from any retribution at all.”
And technology does seem to be the issue. Stories of kids facing bullying in school and then coming home to face harassment on social networks are constantly making news. Before our 24/7 world, the victim would get a break when he was away from school, in the safety of his home. But now, unless the victim is willing to forgo most social media, he is likely facing a bully all day, every day.
Social media can spread rumors and gossip more quickly than ever before. Suddenly a Facebook status is seen by hundreds rather than a whisper in the schoolyard heard by a few.
Nick Gillespie asserts in his April 2012 article from the Wall Street Journal that bullying is not more prevalent now than it ever was. He blames over-protective, helicopter parents, and media hype for the bullying phenomenon we hear so much about today. Gillespie notes statistics that show that bullying is actually on the decline. He seems to believe that media coverage plays a part in the over sensationalizing of the stories.
Can It Be Stopped?
So what do we do? How do we prevent or stop the constant bullying via our technologically connected world? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer about how to make it stop. Sherrow (2011) believes that anti-bullying programs don’t work because they fail to get at the root of the problem which is the deeply biological and primal nature of bullying.
Other organizations such as stopcyberbullying.org suggest that the victim should step away from the computer to give the bully fewer opportunities to harass.
But asking the victim to give up any or most social networking in a world that is increasingly dependent on it seems unfair. In a way then, the bullies' use of intimidation has produced the desired result of forcing the person to change their habits and choices.
No Easy Answers
I don’t think there is an easy answer to modern bullying. As a bookworm and an introvert, I sometimes faced harassment and teasing in school because of my differences. A strong family, especially a mother who would take the time to listen, got me through it. But I realize that I was lucky.
While bullying is not a new phenomenon, the evolution of bullying via technology is just beginning. Figuring out a way to stop it should be a priority.