We like to think we live in the age of information – the shift that has moved our society from the industrial to the digital, knowledge-based world we face today.
And yet through this, an interesting phenomenon has broken through the shadows of this information glut.
Our ‘me’ focus (some would say this comes from the rise of individualism which started in the 1960s) mixed with the ever-present, intoxicating, addictive access to social media has made it possible to not only broadcast out on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis, but also to reach out for feedback, interaction and validation from others.
This form of communication may appear as chat, sharing photos and family moments, sourcing the best mechanic, camera or restaurant in Paris, but it can be much more insidious than that.
Our anxiety-riddled lives crave reassurance and validation.
That’s how we know that we’re okay.
That we fit in.
And so many of these interactions take place virtually these days. They take place in an arena that offers people anonymity and a false feeling of connectedness. It’s an arena where over sharing and trolling can wreak havoc.
And more than that, it’s an arena where interacting with likeminded people on a regular basis begins to bring swirling opinions closer; inward. Supporting, encouraging and agreeing. An arena where dissenting opinions are not that welcome and often denounced.
We’re becoming people that prefer the comfort of the known, avoiding the re-evaluating associated with new information, ideas and opinions.
We prefer homogeneity to the challenge brought by contrasting or contradicting perspectives.
Are we more interested in an affirmational pat-on-the-back then being challenged? Hard to believe, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are a few small shifts we could make to open ourselves up to a wider world of thinking:
1. Libraries Aren’t Just For Students
The New York City Library and many Universities offer use of an archive (run by Gale) called Opposing Opinions with over 5000 social topics in the form of primary source documents, statistics, website and multi-media materials [http://on.nypl.org/iNLIhP]. Go looking for information. Staying informed can one of the healthiest solutions.
But, “who has time” you say? Let’s take a look at another simple trick (that doesn’t involve studying).
2. Embracing our Differences:
Diversity in whom we follow, friend and generally interact with is a benefit. Even though it feels like we’re swimming upstream against a social media network that works double-time to try and connect us with similar minded people – it’s a receipt for conformity.
All “like”, “thumbs up” and “favorite” buttons have no opposites – but if you seek out differing thoughts they’re there.
3. Think It Through:
The need for debate grows stronger as group-think takes hold. It’s the practice of making decisions as a group, which results in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making. Be it on Facebook, within your local community or at the national political level, group-think never works.
Critical thinking, overcoming your fears and fighting goes a long way to alleviating the problem.
Taking a few small steps outside of your comfort zone, away from your “likes” can make a big difference.
We all have our biases and our opinions.
If this is truly the age of information then we need to be able to share our thoughts and opinions freely. To listen and learn. To discern wisely and to be mindful of other’s perspectives.
I’m just not sure we’re there yet.