I absolutely love a good conversation. Well, let’s be very clear. As an introvert, I had meaningless conversation. Small talk really drives me around a corner. But a good conversation, one where I walk away learning something about my conversation partner, myself, or best yet both of us, those are the kinds of conversations that can give me a healthy bit of energy.
It should make sense then that I would like social media, and in fact as far as it offers entertainment I do. I try my best to be funny with social media, to bring a smile to someone’s day. It is also a really great place to get some solid dad jokes. It’s a good place to message people for whom I have long ago lost their cell phone number.
Social media is a horrible place to have any kind of meaningful conversation.
There are obvious reasons why this is true. Face to face interaction has so much to offer us that a phone screen never could. I can’t see the reactions on the faces of people I’m communicating with, and thus I’m missing some pretty vital social clues as to how what I’m saying is landing. When I offend someone in person, I see the pain in their face, and my brain naturally wants to fix it (though, I’m a 9 on the enneagram so maybe that’s just me). When I offend someone on twitter, who cares? You also can’t hear tone of voice on social media, and so the number of times I have to say something like “I’m asking this seriously, without an ounce of snark or sass” is great. “What do you mean?” can be both a legitimate question, and a slam. How are we to know?
But the other reason I’m noticing, particularly when it comes to politics, is that twitter (and other social media) is a huge echo chamber that rarely encourages you to see life from anyone else’s viewpoint.
If I wanted to, I could carefully curate the feeds on my phone to only give me the opinions I agree with. I could make sure I’m only following people who will uphold and affirm my worldview. Even if that worldview is in the minority, I can make sure it feels like it is the only viewpoint in the world simply by following the right people on Twitter. This also has an added bonus in a feedback obsessed culture of making sure that every tweet and post I put out there in the world will get likes and retweets. Which feeds the dopamine part of my brain that craves affirmation, but does little to challenge these beliefs, no matter how crazy they may be (and I know that some of my beliefs are crazy!)
So as this political season really gets going, as we are going to be tempted to have more and more debates over policy (I hope) or political drama (more likely), my encouragement to all of us is to have better conversations. That starts with having actual conversations, and not tweet wars. It includes reaching out to find others who (thoughtfully) disagree with some of your views, so that in a spirit of charity you can learn from each other. Read that last sentence again. Some people will try to convince you that this is impossible. Some people will try to convince you that this kind of world just isn’t possible. It is. I have seen it. And it’s beautiful.
This isn’t to say put twitter away forever. Again, dad jokes. But it is to say we should make sure we’re not just adding to the echos of our culture, and to say that we should spend more time in actual, good, and uplifting conversations.
Let’s chat, shall we?