I used to be a news junkie with a constant stream of NPR, daily dose of the New York Times and frequent check ins with CNN and other news sources. In recent years, however, I’ve cut so far back on my news habit that I barely get the joke references on the rare occasion I tune into late night TV. My media fast has been intentional, and as I’ve cut the constant buzz of what is mostly bad news out of my life, my whole outlook and energy has shifted.
I am not, however, completely shut off from the world of current affairs. I still get news notifications which I look at from time to time, but what I’ve started to notice is that because my smart phone is good at guessing what I want to see, I almost always get stories that support my beliefs and my political leanings. It has taken me a while to realize this, at least partly because I’m not paying super close attention, but now that I realize what’s going on I really can’t be quiet any longer.
We have the capability to control exactly what we see on social media, online news and even on television to the extent that we are risking the loss of one of the best parts of living in a free society – the ability to not only voice our own opinion but also to be exposed to the opinions of others.
Take the presidential election, for example. Even with my limited media exposure I do feel that I am fairly well-informed about the core issues. I also have strong concerns about one of the candidates in particular, and every time I look at my newsfeed these concerns are being supported by the stories I’m seeing. Interestingly, the stories come from credible sources like the New York Times and Washington Post and are all completely in line with my thinking. What I’ve only just realized, however, is that these stories, which at first appear to be news stories, are really op-ed pieces, but I’m only being shown the ones that I already agree with.
It’s a classic case of preaching to the choir: it’s comfortable but it is wise? Think back to your days in your college dorm room, drinking bad beer and debating philosophy with the guys down the hall. You might not have solved the world’s problems or changed your beliefs, but hopefully you did listen and maybe you even learned something you didn’t know before.
We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s my story, your story, and then somewhere in between there is the real story.”
Nothing fuels the fires of fear more than the unknown, and I’m concerned that as our society becomes increasingly polarized and fragmented, that our technology and selective listening is going to make things worse, not better.
What if we purposely start a movement of crossing over – of taking the time to read or listen to someone else’s point of view? If we’re so sure we are right all the time we will never have the opportunity to engage in dialogue that solves problems in a meaningful and satisfactory way. I’m taking the first step today and am clicking on the campaign website of the candidate I don’t like. I’m not expecting to change my views or my vote but I do want to start listening and figuring out how we got to such a divisive place, and to start figuring out how we can make sure people feel heard as we work to build a new world together.