Space For Those Who Don’t Agree

Lisbon, March 2011Through the numerous jobs I do as both a journalist and an editor to help fund my own work here on this site, I end up editing many documents relating to new media and its significance.  Among the terms and theories that are frequently kicked around is the one about how through today’s social media applications and collective spaces on the web, like minded people can find each other and further develop their projects or networks. No doubt, this is happening and will continue to happen; yet while many celebrate this development, I’m left concerned and wondering about the flip side of this coin.

What will a world be like where for the most part like minded people find each other and communicate amongst themselves? Where you unfriend or ignore any person with an opinion that doesn’t match your own. How will future compromises and cooperation occur among people who have very different points of view about how the world works or should work?

In many ways this question has begun to be answered with every passing election in this decade.  In Europe for example, increasingly you hear about increase in votes for parties on the fringe or on extreme opposite opinions from each other.  The middle ground or voices that express something less pronounced or less strict positions are losing ground (of course in many cases they might also deserve it for a poor track record).

Despite the power of the internet to educate and connect people, and the tools that have made this all possible, the answer to the aforementioned question has not emerged.  You can surely follow people on twitter that you agree with just as well as you can follow people you disagree with, but do we really do both? Or do we unfollow the person who’s opinion we can’t stand.  After that, we may never have to hear from them and can proceed with communicating with the more pleasant people we tend to agree with.

Of course this is not the same story throughout the internet. There are plenty of people, who disagree on things, listening and communicating with each other.  But as systems of social networking become more refined, catering to what you like and who you like, how do we keep the things we don’t like -but might need to live alongside, from being ignored. Are all the great developments for sharing information making sure that NON likeminded people are encouraged (or required!) to keep listening to each other? Perhaps they should, since we do still live on this earth together, and ignoring each other continues to have terrible side effects.