I will never stop being in awe of the internet. I am amazed how we can now hold the world in the palms of our hands. The information age has been the most important technological advance of this era. We have more access to information on our smart phones, for an example, than the president of the United States had in the seventies. We have the technology to google information that thirty years ago would have taken us months to research. This is all at the click of a button.
Our smart phones have the ability to help us navigate the physical world with ease. A person having a phone navigation system has the ability to find their way around a foreign city with the ease equalling that of a local. We use YouTube to become better cooks, you can watch while someone from a different corner of the globe guides you into making a foreign dish perfectly , in your first attempt.
The other wonder of the internet is its inherent potential to improve understanding and communication amongst humans with different ideologies. Surely this would be a perfect space to reach an understanding and a respectful compromise for those sects whose relationship is often marked with conflict. The internet could be used, for an example, to bridge a gap between the young and the old, between Islamic fundamentalists and the west, between Christian fundamentalists and the queer community. One might have imagined that communities at odds would use the resource that is the internet to reach across the divide in order to improve relations through dialogue.
This has not been the case though. On the whole the internet is failing as a tool for dialogue. When Facebook started, it had a young user profile and as the older generation signed up on the App, young people moved out in droves. There was an exodus from Facebook, which is seen as a App for old people to other hipper Apps like Instagram and Snapchat. So, in terms of social networks, the internet has not resulted in a dialogue between the young and the old. There is still a divide between the two generations.
The internet seems unable to foster dialogue. Like is attracted to like. Young people on the whole still prefer to converse amongst themselves. There seems to be an unwillingness to let older people in. I taught high school and the first act that teens engage in when they get social networks is to block their parents, or, even more deceitfully, they create a fake account where they censor themselves for parental gaze and approval. They then use their true accounts to talk to their friends. For young people the internet is used to find those they share ideologies with and also to keep out those they disagree with.
There is a glaring lack of dialogue between those who share different political ideologies on the internet. In fact on the internet, those who are at political odds use the internet to battle each other. Feminists are described by men as angry bra-less spinsters, and feminists in turn dismiss men as trash. There seems to be no attempt at understanding the other side. People on the internet seem obsessed with only conversing with those who hold the same world view as them. We exist in these narrow thought enclaves where we use the internet to echo the views of those we agree with. We seem unwilling to land an ear to anyone who differs.
I am a prime example of this unwillingness. Most of my Facebook friends are queer women like me with feminist leanings. I had become very hesitant of accepting friend requests from men. My feminism consists mainly of preaching to the choir. Recently I experienced first-hand how intolerant my thought enclave had become of divergent thought. I wrote a post about a meme. In it there is a black woman with a smile, throwing away a baby with the caption “fetus deletus”. It was a meme supporting the right to choose, the right for women to terminate their pregnancy.
I explained that despite being very pro-choice I find the meme crass. Termination is not easy. That posting a meme suggesting that it can be done with glee is wrong. For me the meme suggests that termination of pregnancy is easy and without consequence, that it can be done with joy. I suggested that such memes are almost male in their disregard of life.
Even though I had stated that I am pro-choice – I do believe in the right to abortion – the feminists in my timeline were angry. They saw my post as judgement. I was told that women have a right to bodily autonomy – that they in fact could terminate as birth control and with glee should they want to. There was much dragging and trolling and back and forth from both sides. The idea seemed to be that if I did not share the common opinion then I should be silenced. A couple of days after this my account was blocked. This blocking made me realise how dangerous it is to only surround yourself with those who hold the same view, because dissent from then on is seen as treachery.
I am on my second Facebook account and this time I am accepting all friends request. I want the demographics of my social networks to reflect the world and most importantly to foster dialogue. I want to hear from people who are not like me, and be able to have reasonable discussions rather than wars.
Tell us: Do you think that social media helps to foster mutual understanding – or does it cause intolerance and hatred?