Wednesday, January 27, 2016

In Conversation No One Ever Remembers, I Start Thinkin' About Life on the Outside

Sean Blanda:

But this holier-than-thou social media behavior is counterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanced discourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this.

The post is fine, as far as it goes. Nothing in it is inaccurate. It would be better if we could all strive to live up to Spinoza's ideal and seek to understand rather than laugh, cry, or hate when confronted by people who disagree with us. But I have become increasingly convinced that the structural factors of social media make it impossible for this to happen. What I mean is, social media, by design, facilitates the absolute worst habits of communication. It's not that any misanthropic villain intended it that way; it's just the cumulative effect of all the individual elements that define the platform. Rapid-fire conversation, between groups of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people, about contentious topics, is bound to end badly. Complaining as if people just need to be disciplined enough to behave themselves online is like wandering into a crowded bar and getting frustrated that you can't start a Socratic dialogue. Nobody is there for that purpose, and even if they were, all the distractions and raucous din make it too difficult. You're misunderstanding the very nature of the social environment. If it's high-minded camaraderie you want, why do you keep hanging out in bars talking to belligerent drunks? And if it's nuanced conversation you want, why do you look for it in an environment populated by people who think within the linguistic limits of text messages?