A common tactic in discussions about the Internet as a free speech medium is to discount Internet discourse as inherently trivial. Who cares about cute pictures of kittens, inarticulate YouTube trolling, and blog posts about what you had for lunch or what your toddler said on the way to day-care? Do we really want to trade all the pleasure and economic activity generated by the entertainment industry for *that*? The usual rebuttal is to point out all the “worthy” ways that we communicate online: the scholarly discussions, the terminally ill comforting one another, the distance education that lifts poor and excluded people out of their limited straits, the dissidents who post videos of secret police murdering street protesters.
All that stuff is important, but when it comes to interpersonal communications, trivial should be enough.
The reason nearly everything we put on the Internet seems “trivial” is because, seen in isolation, nearly everything we say and do is also trivial. There is nothing of particular moment in the conversations I have with my wife over the breakfast table. There is nothing earthshaking in the stories I tell my daughter when we walk to daycare in the morning. This doesn’t mean that it’s sane, right, or even possible to regulate them.
And yet, taken together, the collection of all these “meaningless” interactions comprise nearly the whole of our lives together. They are the invisible threads that bind us together as a family. When I am away from my family, it’s this that I miss. Our social intercourse is built on subtext as much as it is on text. When you ask your wife how she slept last night, you aren’t really interested in her sleep. You’re interested in her knowing that you care about her. When you ask after a friend’s kids, you don’t care about their potty-training progress — you and your friend are reinforcing your bond of mutual care.
If that’s not enough reason to defend the trivial, consider this: the momentous only arises from the trivial. When we rally around a friend with cancer, or celebrate the extraordinary achievements of a friend who does well, or commiserate over the death of a loved one, we do so only because we have an underlying layer of trivial interaction that makes it meaningful. Weddings are a big deal, but every wedding is preceded by a long period of small, individually unimportant interactions, and is also followed by them. But without these “unimportant” moments, there would be no marriages.