Whilst catching up with my backlog of queued podcasts earlier this week, I heard a phrase in reference to the current global war on terrorism that caught my attention. I don’t remember it exactly but it went along the lines of:
“There are only ever conversations and then wars”
The point being that all we ever have to secure peace is dialogue, discussion or negotiation and once that ends all we have is a reversion to violence on some level. It’s when talks stall that violence starts, and that’s true whether it’s a local neighbourhood dispute over loud music, or two nations disputing the ownership of land. The magnitudes and implications may be very different, but the processes of negotiation on every level lead ultimately to only one of two outcomes:
negotiate -> compromise or agree -> resolution
negotiate -> fail to reach solution -> violence
It’s rather obvious I guess, but I’d never looked at it in this way, that at a very basic level, all we have in life, to safeguard our desire for peace, safety and happiness, comes down to words and exchange of ideas. Just that. Nothing else.
Whether spoken or written, words give us the ability to set ourselves apart from all other species, to truly become great. Carefully constructed groups of words form ideas and underpin arguments and reason, leading to cures against disease, improvements in technology that lead to improvements in the quality of all of our lives, and the ability to change opinion, to reach consensus, to compromise and reason, ultimately underpinning the very fabric of civilisation as we know it.
And given the importance of words, it is becoming increasingly worrying how social media echo chambers are distorting how we all perceive the world, and therefore how we communicate and interact with the world in our daily lives.
Such echo chambers have always existed, albeit in slightly different forms. Some people always buy The Daily Mail because it satisfies their right wing leanings. Most importantly and most dangerously, it closes the circle by emphasising and endorsing pre conceived thinking and opinions. If you read The Daily Mail, you read how immigrants are to blame for the economy, lack of housing, demise of the healthcare system and so on, because you read it day after day after day in your newspaper.
Of course this isn’t just a right wing phenomenon. If I care about animal welfare, with a few clicks of a button, all I see all day are stories of cruelty to animals. If I believe the world is run by an elite lizard illuminati I can surround myself in conspiracy stories to back up and endorse my concerns. If I believe man never landed on the moon and it was all a hoax, there are over 137,000 online articles to immerse myself in to ‘uncover the truth’.
And today we don’t just have newspapers to construct our echo chamber, we also have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc, where we get to select and customise our feed content to suit. We determine who makes up our timeline, and so if I am a racist I choose to follow racists who also follow racists, so when I wake on a morning and turn on my smartphone I am bombarded by memes, opinion pieces, photographs and videos that underpin my pre-formed views of the world. Many of us get most, if not all, our information from such places these days. And with fewer and fewer news corporations with increasing levels of power, we are starting to see this also on our TVs and radios.
With very little effort at all, before long, we are all cocooned into our own customised, polarised, filtered views of the world. We experience the same world events but have our own personalised echo chambers to do the interpretation for us, serving it up to us on a 4.8″ super AMOLED HD touchscreen platter.
And if you are President of the United States of America, you follow just 43 people on Twitter, most who either have the word ‘Trump’ in their surname, or who conform to the very same views of your own. 27.7M followers, following the most powerful person on the planet, who in turn follows just 43 people. This is Trump’s echo chamber. This is the source of his words, the cradle of his ideas. This is where his opinions are formed, where legislation is constructed. This is Trump’s World.
Words and wars – Ne’er a truer word.