Virtual bubble

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While the internet has connected us in many ways, it has also made it much easier for us to find and congregate with people who agree with our ideas and our opinions.  We carefully curate our social media feeds and populate them with people who are often very similar to ourselves. The social media companies suggest material, advertisements, and friends that they think best match us. And they certainly do not present us with people or ideas with which they think we will dislike and disagree. Often we don’t even see this when it is happening. Take the last election cycle. Many people were amazed that Trump won. Within many liberal, urban centers there was a sense of shock at the results of the election. In academia, which now is broadly notorious for the liberal skew, many people couldn’t name many friends or peers who would vote for Trump. Everyone’s feed from Twitter or Facebook is an extremely poor representation of the larger population on nearly every topic. Instead of promoting diversity of thought and diversity of opinion, some areas of the internet have enabled a paucity of thought and a clustering of yes men (or women) who congregate in the same virtual areas. Perhaps even worse, when we do encounter the ideas and opinions of people with whom we disagree online, this is a caricature of the whole person and the method of communication is starkly one dimensional without many rules, non-verbal cues, or incentives to be courteous and give the person the benefit of the doubt. I still have yet to meet someone who got in a battle over Twitter or Facebook and who was won over through the sound reasoning and convincing rhetoric of the other side.

So find friends, online or offline who disagree with you. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend.” As much of our lives now involve some aspect of internet based technology, so the bubble we are has enclosed this space as well. In a digital age that pushes us away from people unlike ourselves, this becomes a task in which we must be constantly intentional. Both offline and online engaging with real people with ideas and beliefs different from ourselves is not an accident. It must become a habit critical to our growth and our identity as citizens of the global community.

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