We slaughtered nuance in favour of knee-jerk reactions. But that isn’t anything new for society.
What’s new is the web. In the last ten years the web has accelerated how knee-jerk reactions spread.
The great equalizer, the “level playing field”, has removed the filter of reasonable discourse.
We don’t have a dozen press/media organizations respecting journalistic integrity. Instead we have hundreds/thousands/millions/billions of voices all making a ruckus.
Traditional media has eroded. Their survival depends on attention. Now they’re forced to compete with the likes of bloggers and trolls and people who don’t give a damn about the truth.
Now we have this endless loop of hysteria and clickbait coming at us from every direction. It’s all fueled by outrage and emotional triggers.
It’s overwhelming. So what happens? People retreat further and further into their “teams” or “tribes” or “camps” (or whatever you want to call it).
I consider myself a centrist, though I do lean left of most American politics (Canadian here, sup?). It’s a hard position to be in. It would be a lot easier to choose a team.
Don’t think about it. Side with that team every single time. Go team go!
But I don’t want to do that. It wouldn’t solve anything. It would only feed the beast of polarization.
So what do we do? The only thing close to a solution that I can think of is pushing for greater exposure and empathy on both sides.
Keep asking “why?” and trying to understand.
It’s hard to do. I’m a straight, able-bodied white male. I live a comfortable life in a great city. I work in tech with a stable job and benefits. My family’s been here since the 1850s or 1860s.
I’m pretty sure I fall right in that target definition of “white privilege”. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a minority group. I don’t know what it’s like to be a target. I don’t know what it’s like to get profiled for no reason other than my race, religion, or ethnicity. I don’t know what it’s like to have my life upended by war or famine or natural disasters. I don’t know what it’s like to flee, trying to survive or protect my family.
But I can try to imagine. I can read and listen to others share their experiences.
Is that the missing piece? Empathy?
I’m convinced that the less exposure we have to “others”, the more we retreat into our bubbles. We listen to the echo chamber. We feed the vitriol. We dismiss the many because of the few.
It’s like trying to put out an electrical fire with buckets of water.
And it’s messed up. The web was supposed to make empathy easier. It was supposed to connect us with people around the world.
Instead we’re using it to build up mental barriers.
And yes, I believe that the tech industry holds a fair share of blame here. When the almighty algorithm reinforces everything you already believe? When it’s “personalized” to only shows you things that align to your worldview? And when it happens at a scale touching billions of lives every day?
Yeah. That feels like a problem to me.
This is all a big problem. There isn’t a single patch that’ll fix it. But empathy… I think empathy is the right direction. Can we start there, at least?