Now that the weekend is here, I can catch up on my Blogging 101 assignments. A few of the assignments I haven’t posted about are “under-the-hood” ones: find new blogs, connect with people in the discussion boards, play around with the visual theme of your blog. I’ve done the first two and at some point I’ll make time to play a bit with the visual design here on JALC. During that Baltic cruise, I actually took a lot of landscape-orientation “texture” photos (things like a lacquered wood floor in The Hermitage, or a ceiling mosaic from the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood) thinking precisely of their use-value for Facebook and blog headers. Now if only I would actually take the time to download those July photos from my camera’s memory card to actually sort through them and start using them…
But one of the assignments was a post topic: the suggestion to
publish a post for your dream reader, and include a new-to-you element in it.
This, again, is one of the assignments I completed the last time around, so I’m going to take the opportunity to springboard and do some thinking-out-loud on something I’ve been studying for the last 6 weeks or so.
The question on the table is how much I want my blog to be functioning as an “echo chamber”–you know, the kind of place where folks already agreeing with my worldview get their opinions validated, and folks with different worldview are so turned off they just head elsewhere. Everyone stays siloed, and no one learns or grows or changes (including me).
In some ways, I started wondering about this dynamic way back in August, when I saw news about a new study by the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University. Quoting Claire Cain Miller’s analysis of the study in The New York Times:
Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends. . . . The researchers also found that those who use social media regularly are more reluctant to express dissenting views in the offline world.
The Internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarization of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different. Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us.
(Please note: this is a parody account, rather than the actual twitter account of the famous comedian. Still WAY on-point, though.)
I’m fortunate that I didn’t see many heart-wrenchingly appalling responses to these grand jury decisions among my circle of friends. But there definitely was some racist “white noise”* from certain folks among my extended circle of old high school acquaintances, college co-alumni, and distant relatives several-times removed. I got into one fruitless comments-thread dustup before reminding myself about this article by Jenee Desmond-Harris a friend had shared with me back in August when we were dealing with similarly racist and blood-pressure-increasing responses to the shooting.
My take, generally, is that Facebook is a terrible place to change minds or worldviews in the midst of developing news events. Everyone’s emotional. Everyone’s defensive. Nobody keeps the debate on track.
But here’s what Facebook comments are good for: revealing data about whether you want your “friends” to be your friends any longer. That is, of course, if you believe, as I do, that the way someone responds to other people’s pain and mistreatment—including the systemic mistreatment of entire groups of people—is a perfectly fine way to decide whether he or she is someone you like or want to continue to interact with. . . .
But here’s the thing: Each and every person making comments that rub you the wrong way has access to the entire Internet, live feeds from Ferguson, materials on the entire history of American racism generally and violence against unarmed black men specifically. They are choosing to think the way they do because it works for them and makes them feel good. (emphasis added)
Desmond-Harris also talks about the psychological toll that can be caused by too-deeply immersing oneself in difficult news cycles. Given the likely futility of changing minds and hearts she describes–and that I myself have experienced–and the actual self-harm that the fruitless attempt to sway opinions can cause, it seems as if maybe writing in an echo chamber may not be so bad after all?
And yet. If everyone stays siloed, how will this fucked-up society ever evolve?
That side of the coin was powerfully voiced by blogger Spectra:
I’m seeing one too many white people bragging about de-friending other white people. I don’t need your condolences. I don’t need rash actions that absolve you of the responsibility of facilitating hard conversations with folks I will never be able to reach.
I need you to step up in a major way, and leverage the connections you DO have to address ignorance with conversation and interrogate white privilege with compassion. Because I will not do this. I cannot do this.
I don’t have my answer to this dilemma yet. I think ultimately my prayer is that folks who are open to learning beyond the limitations of their privilege will find resources to help them expand their horizons. Maybe some of my liberal, feminist writings here will be part of that expansion. But I also think that there are none so blind as those who will not see.
So where does that leave me? The hell if I know.
* Pun absolutely intended.