What if I told you that you live in a world separate from some of your closest friends, your colleagues, even your spouse?
For some of us this is reality.
Consider this: Today the average person spends about 1 hour 40 minutes a day on social media, according to GWI (Global Web Index). Over a year, that’s nearly a full month spent in front of a screen!
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. It’s a huge part of what our culture has become.
We add friends, share posts, like, tweet and snap so much of our lives. But who sees it, and who decides what you see?
After the election in November, I opened my Facebook newsfeed and scrolled through dozens of reactions to the ‘big night’. There was denial. There was frustration. There was confusion. There was anger. Everyone was wondering the same big question: what would happen to me?
Yet, this is only half of the story. I realized that nearly every single one of my online acquaintances whose reactions I was seeing was a liberal, like me. Where were all of my conservative friends’ statements?
Well, I’ll tell you. Because I often did not ‘like’ or ‘share’ my conservative friends’ views, I never got to see them in the first place.
Every day when I attend to my ‘Facebook addiction’ I notice more. I realize that I have started to identify my online acquaintances based purely on their knack for knitting, or their love for furry kittens, or Joe Biden memes.
I have come to expect viral videos like the ‘Ice Bucket challenge’, or ‘look how far I can swing this rotten pumpkin in the air’ from others. My closest friends had become chunks of data to be hashed and streamed; opinions floating in the nether regions of the interweb.
Social media has led us into an echo chamber of our own ideals. We see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear. We fail to see beyond our own self interests, and in doing so, we become unyielding proponents of our own respective worldviews.
This barrier is not just present in the digital sphere, it’s present wherever we go and in whatever we do. When was the last time you had a healthy conversation with a stranger on the bus? In a plane? On the street? For some of us, this is a regular occurrence, but for many of us, it’s not. For me? It’s been a while.
There is a way beyond these bubbles. It starts by breaking out of them. When one of my friends shared an article in support of what I considered a crude, immoral policy, I felt the need to make my voice heard. I told this person how I felt, and why I felt that way.
They were receptive, and we agreed to meet and discuss our differences of opinion in a respectful & open setting. This meeting hasn’t happened yet, but I can tell you that I am definitely looking forward to it!
If we want to function as a larger society we must first acknowledge these separate realities that we live in digitally and socially. Then, and only then, we can begin to bridge the gap.
Our digital lives are a mirror of how we interact day to day. Our friends, associates, fellow citizens, media anchors are not data chunks, not cathode rays being emitted by a tube, and most certainly not the LCDs lighting up your screen.
They are not the opinions being shouted your way. They are human beings just like you or me. When the human-ness of the humans behind the keys starts to dissipate, that’s when I fear our mutual respect for each other will be at stake.
Here’s an assignment. Today, talk to someone you wouldn’t normally talk with. Listen with an open mind, discuss your differences. Seek common ground. There usually is some.
If we can together seek this common ground, I believe we will find that we are more similar than different, that we share more values than we hold against each other. I believe we will find, at the very core, that we share a common American identity.
These lines should sound familiar to many of you:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
We the People. That’s us, folks. Now let’s get to work bridging those gaps.