In the not-so-distant past, if you had told people that one day you could have the wealth of the world’s information in the palm of your hand, they would have laughed in your face. But nowadays technology like smartphones, social media and services designed to stream information directly to you are commonplace. So commonplace that we tend to forget this technology is incredibly new and isn’t completely understood yet. There are no long-term studies on social media or handheld computers. The effects of the technological age we live in are vastly unknown. But I believe we have recently seen one potential impact of the techno-social world we live in.
“Democracy can be justified and perpetuated only if it offers a better life to all citizens through mutual respect and the sharing of ideas”. Democracy relies on people coming together. Without the mutual respect and idea sharing, we segregate ourselves into groups. Whatever group we belong to we believe to be the correct one.
We see this most prominently in social media where people tend to have an inflated image of their intellect. It is human nature to believe that we are correct. Social media has allowed us to exist in an intellectual bubble, an echo chamber of ideas that reinforce our own. We know that social media tracks us and gives us information we think we will like or agree with. If Facebook sees that you are a conservative, it will tend to only feed you conservative information. Therefore, we become more cemented in our ideas. And on the rare occasion that we see someone on the opposing side, our response is almost always hostile. We assume our own intellectual superiority. And if we encounter any information that seems to contradict or challenge our own viewpoint, we’re likely to say it is biased and unreliable.
Social media is almost a perfect picture of tribalism. People tend to embrace group identities based on what they have in common. This creates a safety net that encourages reclusion into the group and discourages contact outside it. It simultaneously promotes unity and division. Often, we use the beliefs or ‘groupings’ of another individual in a derogatory way, implying that they are ‘less than’ the group we ascribe to. And as this abrasive environment is fostered, it creates a more negative atmosphere that further encourages the reclusion and tribalism. We lose our train of independent thought and tend to get swept away in the current of other’s beliefs.
I am far from a centrist. And I have written before on the importance of finding out what you believe and having the courage and conviction to see your beliefs through. I don’t want this piece to come off as ‘ignore all differences’ because I strongly believe that is counterintuitive for change. It’s just a shame that we all so aggressively divide ourselves, and a bigger shame that by joining in what we believe to be ‘our group’, we rob ourselves of individual thought.
How do we combat this?
Well, we stop having knee-jerk reactions to everything online.
I am sure we have all seen a factually incorrect comment on one of our posts or an inflammatory tweet that thousands respond to. We can feel the need to respond quickly because we feel it is a moral issue. Someone may say something that we think is wrong and we set out to make it right.
“If we don’t come to a quick conclusion and choose a side, it can feel like we’re letting the proverbial bad guys—whoever they are in a given case—win. Thus, an opinion becomes a moral imperative, an act on behalf of humanity, or at least on behalf of whatever cause we support.”
But when we respond to people or try to correct misinformation, we really only add to the firestorm. The noise of tribalism grows ever louder, and our opinion gets drowned in with all the rest. If we slowly examine and evaluate the mass of information that is thrown at us, we can better understand it. We formulate better responses to issues that arise. We essentially force ourselves to think independently, rather than as a group.
Instead of constantly responding and adding, just read.
We should be reading everything we can online. We can watch the world around us and stay informed without adding to the noise. In a technological world filled with pyyrhic victories, sometimes it is better to just not participate at all. When we let ourselves become divided into these groups of mobs, we contribute to the weakening of our country. Mob mentality was something our founding fathers feared above all else. Though we divide ourselves into tribes to make us feel safer, it serves the opposite effect. If we can slow down enough to absorb the information around ourselves, formulate independent thoughts and ideas, and carefully construct our reasons and arguments without alienating the other sides, everyone is better for it. In doing this, we can fight back against the tribalism that ensnares us.
The world needs independent thinkers. We need a sort of intellectual rebellion to spur us onward and encourage our growth. The world has been changed by such individuals. Social media heavily fights the idea of free thought; the only solution is to fight back.