Those of us alive today live in one of the most interesting times in human history. We have, quite literally, the entire world, and all the information we have ever accumulated, at our fingertips. The vast majority of us, no matter our social, racial, political, or economic status, can access an unfathomable amount of information; we can learn about absolutely anything we want to, find out what is happening right this second in any part of the world, take a virtual tour of the entire planet. We can educate ourselves on every political, philosophical, and theological position that has ever been proposed. We can have conversations with people all over the world, gain perspectives we could only make uneducated guesses about a couple of decades ago, really get to know people of every possible persuasion. We are experiencing the dawn of global communication. And we are spitting on that fact every chance we get.
I would expect that any outsider looking in on us right now would feel a certain amount of joy and excitement - how wonderful it is that we can communicate with people from all over the globe! How privileged we are to be able to hear directly from the people on the ground. How thrilling that we can have conversations, at any time of day or night, with people on the other side of the world, that we can learn their reality, their hopes, their dreams, their biggest concerns, and tell them about ours.
But we don't use it that way, do we? No, no we do not. The vast majority of us use this almost infinite source of information to confirm our own biases. To dig our heels in a little deeper. We take every piece of information that has ever been presented, and sort it in such a way that it exactly lines up to what we already believed. Shame on us. We have developed, contributed to, and laid claim to a tool that can connect every human being on Earth, and we are using it to build echo chambers. We are using it to further separate ourselves from anyone who may have an even slightly different perspective to offer. To make our world just a little smaller. We are now able, and all too ready, to "delete", "remove", or "block" people for the smallest difference in opinion. We have become hyper-sensitive to disagreement, and feel it not just our right, but our moral duty to immediately and proudly cut all communication with those who challenge our beliefs. We build a friend list, an audience, a group of followers upon a foundation of agreement and acquiescence. We connect on a global level...with those whose beliefs mirror ours.
Hundreds, thousands of years ago - eras we now see as uncivilized and brutal - great minds would gather to discuss everything from what love is to the most efficient economic system. Philosophers would fight for days, weeks, years on end over the most minute details. Decades ago, authors and journalists would carry on life-long debates and disagreements through print. Scientists would publicly one-up and challenge one another. These people disagreed, often fundamentally and vehemently, but they did not tend to just pretend the other did not exist. They did not decide they had no time for someone who had a different outlook. They did not shy away from a debate.
So why do we? Why have so many of us chosen, as I touched on in a previous post, to make enemies and bigots of people who are neither? Why have we become so sensitive to differences of opinion, however minor? Why do we suddenly believe that the only true friends and allies are those who agree with us entirely? Sure, there are some issues on which we should have a zero-tolerance policy - I will not be embracing true bigotry against race, sexuality, or anything else any time soon, for example - but even on these very serious issues, we seem more and more willing to deem the slightest difference in perspective as bigotry, thereby justifying an end to communication with those who are open to changing their minds. This is particularly concerning, as we are rejecting opportunities to positively influence individuals, and society as a whole, in favour of being offended. We are dismissing entirely that some positions are the result of simple ignorance, not malicious hatred, and can be changed through a simple exchange of information and ideas. We believe we are being strong, being righteous, standing up for ourselves and our people, by building a wall between ourselves and anyone who may see things a little differently. What we have seemingly not considered is that, eventually, we will be very alone behind very large walls.
We are living in an age where truly understanding what drives people is more possible than ever, and we have chosen to shrug that off in favour of our own biases. To reject information and cling to prejudice. To build virtual armies against enemies we cannot even define. We have chosen to take technology that can connect us on a global level, and use it to make our worlds smaller than they have ever been. And we should be ashamed of ourselves.