Society is gradually becoming more and more divided. It seems like differences in opinion are no longer a cause for discussion, but a cause for hatred. Polarization in politics has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, and it doesn’t look like things will get better. But why are we becoming a more divided people? One of the answers to this question is technology.
Let’s explore how technology might contribute to a polarized society.
What is a Polarized Society?
Polarization isn’t just having a disagreement or difference of opinion. It’s a complete refusal of and hatred for the opinions held by the opposing side. Polarization doesn’t allow compromise or reasoning. Undoubtedly you have watched anxiously on the sidelines of an explosive political argument in the comments of a controversial Facebook post. Though we can’t help but be enthralled by the drama, these exchanges are evidence of a divided people.
How Does Technology Divide People?
One of the most (if not the most) prominent technological contributions to a polarized society is social media. Let’s take a look at why social media is so divisive and how you can fight it.
The Echo-Chamber Effect
The echo-chamber effect is the idea that on social media we place ourselves into groups and circles of people who hold our same values and opinions. As we scroll through our feeds, we not only see posts from those like-minded people, but we see individualized ads and content that also aligns with our opinions from the algorithms that social media platforms use. With this constant stream of similar information, it’s hard not to become more certain of your opinion. Misinformation can quickly spread in echo-chambers, often due to the sharing of false information about the opposing side or viewpoint. The way these echo-chambers contribute to a polarized society can’t be ignored.
In a centralized social network like Facebook or Instagram, an individual or small group is referred to as an influencer. They are at the center of thousands and even millions of people, while those they are connected to have smaller spheres of influence. This means that if an influencer shows any bias, that bias is amplified and spreads throughout their massive circle to divide people even further. That’s a lot of power for one person. Unfortunately, many public figures like influencers are seen to be informed and trustworthy in regards to a variety of topics when they might not all have expertise in the fields they’re weighing in on. Though they can be fun to follow for tips and entertainment, influencers shouldn’t be your only source of news or facts.
Do you ever wonder what would happen if you rounded up the people in that nasty comment war on your social media and had them meet in person? Would they say half of the insulting, degrading, and hateful things they say online? Chances are, they probably wouldn’t. Technology takes humanity out of these interactions. Just like cyberbullying, it’s much easier to be brash and uncompromising when you can’t physically see the person you’re addressing. In person, it’s much easier to relate to the person you’re talking with. You can recognize their personality better and see their sincerity. Often, it’s easier to reach a compromise or at least respect one another’s opinions when you’re speaking face-to-face. Technology removes that and thus makes compromise and understanding much more difficult.
What You Can Do
Luckily, you and your children can develop good technology habits that can help you avoid the division that technology can create.
Have In Person Interactions
Teach your children to avoid getting involved in heated conversations online. If they want to discuss a complicated topic with someone, encourage them to do it in person or even over a phone/video call. These mediums help return humanity to the conversation and keep both parties from saying things they might regret.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Help your children understand that they shouldn’t believe everything a friend, influencer, or article says. Teach them to fact check before sharing information and to use good judgement when it comes to information they find online—especially on social media.
Though technology does contribute to division, your family doesn’t have to take part in it. For more technology tips and info, check out Troomi.