“An even more potent force in this regard is the Internet, where it’s easier than not to fall down a down a wormhole of self-referential and mutually reinforcing links that make it feel like the entire world thinks the way you do.”
A few weeks ago I posted this quote from Seth Mnookin’s book ‘The Panic Virus’ to my Facebook page. The timing of the post – the day after Canada’s federal election – was not a coincidence. Judging from the status updates and tweets from my like-minded social media friends, the overall feeling, as the election results came rolling in, was utter shock. There was no shortage of ‘WTF’s as the conservative vote steamrolled across Canada. I wasn’t an exception. Where were all the left-wing votes? What happened to the nation of liberals flooding my inboxes on a daily basis? What happened to the thousands of youths throwing their support behind Rick Mercer’s Vote Mobs and spreading the digital word about websites like www.shitharperdid.ca?
Well, first, I was grossly mistaken that there was a whole nation of liberals out there. I had convinced myself that the world of my left-leaning Facebook friends and fellow Tweeters were representative of the world beyond my living room door. The overestimation seems clear now, but is it any surprise now how I had fooled myself?
While my parents’ generation had to sit through a great deal of cable news stories and Op-eds that they disagreed with, my generation – with increasing ease over the last decade – has been able to choose what news we want to watch and which opinions we want to hear. We’ve been able to edit out any information or ideas that make us feel uncomfortable or stressed, and keep those that reinforce our own world view.
Hence why my Facebook and Twitter friends all think like I do, and the links they post transport me to websites and blogs that never mar the finish on my leftist-coloured glasses. In addition, the Youtube segments I watch, from Jon Stewart to Bill Maher to The Young Turks, not only tell me the bits of news and opinions I want to hear, but they reassure me that those who disagree with such news and opinions are a stupid minority not deserving to hold power. Heck, do these rubes even know what the internet is?
In the end though, it was all BS.
As it turns out, we hold no advantage with intelligence, numbers or internet savvy. Some of you may balk at this, but the proof is in the pudding: their leaders are running the country with a clear majority. If you want to claim something about mass voter brainwashing and political trickery, then you can join the ranks of the Birthers, and to a lesser extent the Voter Fraud crowd who tried to discredit the last Bush Administration. Such communities are prime examples of how people brainwash themselves in order to protect their fragile world view.
The morning after the election results, one of my Facebook friends posted the status update: “I wish only my Facebook friends voted last night.” I’m sure the thoughts that went into writing this post were different than those I took from reading it. But it sums up both my keen desire to keep the real world out of my cozy digital realm, and the overwhelming disappointment that comes with the realization that real change doesn’t occur through witty Facebook updates and cute 140-character tweets. Somewhere along the line, and perhaps in part due to the grandiose claims of techies equating twitter activism with revolution, I confused having rosy-cheeked fun with making real change. In the movie, The Trotsky a character comments that “it only gets real when it stops being fun.”
How many of our generation would ever want social media to be anything but fun?