Something that I have been noticing lately are people announcing that they will be blocking others on Facebook for various reasons. Now I completely understand that there is no reason that we need to take time with people who drag us down, but online we have the ability to completely block even seeing that any of that stuff exists. This means that we can shape our life online to only include those people or things that reinforce our perspective of the world. Yet, what does this mean for how we deal with the wider variety that we might experience outside of these online circles?
The choice to remove viewpoints from your life, even if just online, means that you are choosing to isolate yourself. Now it is not to say that this is a bad thing, but it is something we need to be careful of. At one point do you cut back too far and potentially cut yourself off too much? When you are isolating online it is not about cutting yourself off entirely, but cutting out anyone who you feel does not fit into your views or beliefs. It can be used to just cut out the extremists from your life or to narrow your focus in the world.
Potentially Narrow Focus
The problem that I see potentially is that if we narrow our focus of the world too much than are we missing out on the different viewpoints in the world. If we only surround ourselves with people who believe and think they same way that we do are we just living in a never ending echo chamber of the same thoughts. Thus, reinforcing that these thoughts are the true right way to think about a situation. Does this potential echo chamber also make us less likely to even hear other views on a situation?
Civil Discourse Might Die
The ultimate issue with this is the possibility that civil discourse might end up dying. In some ways I feel like we are already headed this direction. Now-a-days it is not so much about having a conversation, but being the person who yells their idea the loudest, often calling the other person names to distract from any points they might have. It is not about points and counterpoints, but instead the attack of the individuals. Name calling is the way to argue a point of view instead of an open discourse. The more we potentially isolate and narrow our focus, I feel like the more likely this is to be the case.
What is so funny about the act of cutting ourselves off from information is the fact that the Internet gives us so much more access. In some ways cutting off certain avenues is a natural outcome when there are almost too many open for us to contemplate. It would take a long time to explore all the opinions that are floating out in the web today and therefore it is easy for us to shrink our circle to only topics we care about and shrink even further to only people who think like us.
At the same time the world that we create online is not necessarily a reflection of the world around us. We can create clean separation and back off from things online, but in real life it can be much more difficult to make that separation. There are people we have to deal with in the every day life that online we might choose not to. I fully appreciate that dealing with people who are not willing to listen or have a discourse can be not worth our time. Are we helping things by people cutting themselves off from people disagreeing with them or is it allowing pockets of ignorance to persist?