Today I found out that a good friend of mine quit Facebook. I was astounded -- he had just been filled with such righteous indignation about the election, and big ideas about the change that we needed to bring about. How could he bring about that change if he removed the best tool for talking to people?
But the more we talked, the more convinced I was that he had it right.
On the night of the election, Stephen Colbert talked about poison:
You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side. And it tastes kind of good. And you like how it feels. And there's a gentle high to the condemnation, right? And you know you're right, right? You know you're right.
Social media is at the center of this. Facebook is designed to give you this high. It is designed to give you exactly what you want to see/hear, because that keeps you coming back and lets them serve you more ads.
We craft echo chambers for ourselves. We are increasingly convinced we are right and the other side is wrong, and if we ever do happen to come in contact with someone from the other side, we talk past each other until we're blue in the face. Anger and indignation prevail, reason and empathy fail.
In the last three days I've seen very few productive conversations happening on social media. We try to empathize, we try to make our points. But without the human connection of one-on-one communication, we make no progress. We high five those that agree with us and ignore those who don't. We may not even realize we're ignoring anyone -- the Facebook algorithm is making that choice for us.
TechCrunch says the Facebook bubble just popped. They're right. Read that story, and realize the dangers of the echo chamber. Facebook does more harm than good.
In his last post before quitting Facebook, my friend Mike made some cogent points about our rejection of fact in favor of our echo chambers:
After a century of prosperity, we started to believe that we knew better than what newspapers told us, or scientists told us, or economists told us. We stopped believing in classical books by great thinkers and started believing in podcasts. In even the best cases, we fired articles at each other instead of arguments. What’s more, we thought that our skepticism of expertise was the fault of the expert and not our own. We built the Internet in hopes that it would foster the greatest exchange of ideas in human history. Hopes of that nobility have been diminished.
This election is a lot of things but above all, it’s cultural hubris boiled over.
He goes on to talk about our rejection of fact-based media in favor of our little social media worlds:
Collectively, we rejected newspapers, nearly bankrupted them and then wondered what happened to the fourth estate. I’m not so sure that we should be as outraged as ashamed.
One of my favorite quotes:
If you are unwilling to accept facts that do not align with your view of reality, you are the most dangerous kind of coward.
But Mike doesn't leave us without a call to action.
So, if you want to be angry, be angry — for a while, at least.
When you’re done, though, go out and buy a newspaper subscription to every single publication that you can afford to support. Do this not just for papers which lean in your direction but any paper which has reputable, hard-working reporters who are dedicated to shining a light where it needs to shine. Read all of them. Every day.
When they report the facts, accept them as facts — not as a hypothesis which has its truth contingent on the institution which presented it.
And, too, when they editorialize, accept that as opinion from people who understand the world in a sophisticated way. Admire that sophistication, even if you do not agree with its conclusions.
Do not conflate facts and opinions. Even if you are wrong five percent of the time and bias sneaks into reporting, accept it and move on. Stop throwing babies out with bathwater.
Finally, find a friend, if you can, and see where there might be common ground to stand on.
The waters rise fast and we only survive if we hold on to each other.
Last night I spent a solid two hours talking to two of my best friends while we ate tacos after playing basketball. It was a productive, respectful conversation. I learned things and grew, and we didn't just talk past each other. Granted, this was helped by the fact that we have similar views, but it was refreshing all the same.
I want more of those nights. I want to have smaller, real conversations with people. I want to learn and grow. I want to be more than just retweets and likes.
So here's my plan: I plan to get back to my subscription to The Economist and The Washington Post. I plan to read fact-based reporting and editorializing and form my own opinions.
But as importantly, I have to get out of my echo chamber. And I'm less and less willing to feed into the machine that caused this: Facebook.
In a few days, after most people who will see this post have seen it, I will likely disable my Facebook account.
Twitter is harder. I love Twitter: It's the poison I crave. But I think it has to go as well, at least for awhile. So I'll be taking a break.
But that doesn't mean that I don't want to talk. In fact, I want to talk more than ever. But I don't want to do it on Facebook or Twitter.
Call me. Text me. Let's go grab a drink (soda for me) or some lunch and chat. Let's make real relationships, and have real conversations.
And let's stop drinking the poison.
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