Social Distancing Deniers to Hold Rally on Nearby Flat Earth
An Open Letter to the Internet,
Throughout human history, people have believed in “X” wholeheartedly, in “Y” without a doubt, and in “Z” just because. For heaven’s sake, at one point it was widely accepted that the earth was flat and existed in the center of the universe. Today, that would be considered lunacy, or would it?
A cartooned depiction of an anti-social distancing rally taking place on a flat earth.
Technology has done wonders for educating and spreading information to the masses, but the evolution of the digital age has also come with a few downsides. We’d like to focus on one specific idea, the idea of, what we’ll call, “Layered Factioning.”
A faction, as defined by, ya know, the dictionary, is a group or clique within a larger group, party, government, or organization. An example of this as it pertains to politics is the “far-right” or the “far-left” of any given political party. You may be a Democrat but, your place within that party may differ from others who identify as a Democrat based on your individual set of ideals.
This idea of “Layered Factioning” exists outside the political realm, although we do typically understand this idea through the lens of a “political faction”. Consider your favorite TV show. Why do you enjoy it? Do you ever enjoy it or discuss it with others? Do you ever share this enjoyment with the world wide web in the form of a tweet or story? If so, you’ve voluntarily submitted yourself to surveillance, judgment, and yes, accelerated personality shaping.
Hold on, what do you mean “personality shaping?” It’s not as crazy as it may sound. Personality shaping, or developing rather, takes place on a very minute scale every time you interact with any person in your life. For example, let’s say it’s the first day of 7th grade and you have to decide what to wear. It’s likely you’ll consider how you will be perceived by others while you make your choice. This moment of consideration is a valuable and needed step in finding your sense of self. Where this real-life example of surveillance and judgment differs from a digital one is in the speed of feedback given. In the real-life scenario, scenario A, you have so much more time to sit with your decision and understand the complicated responses you are given.
In scenario A you decide on your outfit, you get on your bus, you gauge the responses or lack of responses from those people on the bus, you walk into school, you interact with friends, teachers, enemies, and maybe strangers who all give you some sort of feedback. This feedback my be simple or complex. It may be complimentary or critical. What is certain, however, is that you will have to go through your whole day wearing that outfit, from the moment you step on the bus in the morning to the second you step off later that day. You have time to process the feedback you receive and qualify it as useful or not so useful.
In scenario B, let’s say you take to the internet for some feedback on your outfit the night prior. You post an Instagram story with three different outfits and the one with the most positive feedback will be the one you wear the next day. It seems similar enough to the feedback you may have been given in person, but it is very different.
In scenario B you’ve shared this question with a specific audience, your Instagram followers. It’s unlikely your bus driver follows you on Instagram and if they do… yikes, but because you’ve chosen to share this question with a more select group of people you will receive a narrower response. You don’t get the feedback from a teacher who may have encouraged you because she sees you’re expressing yourself. Instead, you get placed in the echo chamber of the internet.
Social media and its algorithms are creating echo chambers. You hear an echo of your own opinions based on who you choose to interact with and follow. For example, let’s say you are pro-choice and you see that an old friend from High School has just written a long post arguing the pro-life position. Depending on how you are feeling that day and the exact words this person has chosen to write, you may unfriend them thus, eliminating this opinion from your Facebook feed. A smart move to keep you sane in the short run but, if this continues over the next few years you may have eliminated all those who have differing points of view to you because you can choose who you interact with so easily and you do have so many options.
What does this self separating mean for the division of people the longer it exists?
It means that if you want to be supported you must make yourself into a generalization. You must blindly support Trump, believe the earth is flat, and deny the value of social distancing. You don’t necessarily do this because you believe it, but because it gives you a sense of importance.
It means that we must continue to prove ourselves to the internet and the people we interact with on the internet because the internet demands our voluntary sharing of information in order for those around us to see us as valid. Do you exist, heck do you matter if you are not important within your niche, your layered faction of the internet.
With this in mind, we have been pigeonholed, knowingly, unknowingly, reluctantly or happily into generalizations of ourselves. I tweet, therefore I am.
-A Well-Mannered Grump
by: Joe McNaney