The New Tower of Babel February 16, 2012Posted by johnhemry in Uncategorized.
I’ll admit up-front that I never expected the internet to dramatically change how people communicated. That is, I never bought into the idea that this great new online world would break down barriers between us. What I didn’t expect was how the internet actively discourages communication.
That probably sounds odd given how many people post on the internet every second of every day. But who are they talking to? I recently had online experiences with two people I’ve talked to face-to-face pleasantly and more than once. One had posted a graphic leaning right-wing, and the other a graphic leaning leftwards. In each case, I commented on the assumptions behind each graphic, which I thought were shaky. Now, I’m not a firebreathing troll. I didn’t come on all “you miserable moron!” Not at all. But both came back very strongly, as if amazed that I done anything but say “you’re absolutely right!” They didn’t want to discuss what they had posted. They only wanted people to agree with them.
That’s part of human nature. We don’t want others to question what we say, what we believe, what we think we know. But since none of us are perfect (myself being a prominent example of imperfection) that sort of exposure to different ideas and people at least helps us understand others and may even cause us to modify our positions. As has been noted before, though, the internet makes it easy to not just ignore those with different opinions (or who are different), but to block them out completely. You never need hear anything that contradicts what you already think. Type in a search request and you can find, somewhere, information that confirms what you already believe, no matter what it is. If you’re in an area that isn’t moderated, trolls can suck all life and intelligence out of it, their voices amplified to carry around the world.
We’ve built something, an online world, where others can’t communicate with us unless we let them. We never need learn what someone who disagrees with us really thinks because we can just sit among others who agree with us. What happens when people don’t deliberately mischaracterize the beliefs of others, but instead genuinely don’t know what those beliefs really are? The great majority of us (I believe) aren’t evil or ill-intentioned. But how do we find common ground if all sides in the argument are only talking among themselves?
There are billions of opinions and articles on the internet, a universe of knowledge at our fingertips. It could teach us, it could help us, it could open our minds to possibilities we’ve never considered. But only if we listen. Right now the internet too easily encourages us all to close our ears and our minds.
And, yes, you are allowed to disagree with me. If you do, let’s talk about it, okay?