It is important, as we mentioned last week, to be able to step back and be objective when living in any space whose rules are defined not just by us. Obsessing about anything can be both destructive and ultimately dangerous, and nowhere is that more true than in an environment where it is easy to shout into the void and never experience dissent. The ‘echo chamber’ concept of social media’s used as a stick to beat me with on an almost weekly basis, and I thought it bore more investigation after the latest incident where someone cited the concept as the reason why a relationship had failed.
Wikipedia considers a media echo chamber as ‘a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system,’ which in this case will be your own feed and blogs. Effectively an individual ignores basic points which are obvious to those outside the space as not being fairly represented within, if at all. It is a basic concept of curation but executed at the expense of truth: as you remove people from a space which you can and should control and organise, it can appear from certain angles to be censorship of those who disagree with points of view or who cause contention when doing so.
Since the US Election, I’ve made a point of being more politically active, and this has upset a significant portion of my existing readership, enough to cause many of them to leave of their own accord. It also happened in the run up last year, when it became apparent that being disparaging of Republican ideas and sentiments was going to get me into trouble, and yet I’ll still peddle this line regardless. The key here is that I’m not singling out anyone in my feed as an issue, but by being disparaging of a wider viewpoint, those who hold it as sacred will logically assume I’m attacking them. The same feeling is undoubtedly true when I won’t agree with people’s views on Warcraft, feminism, cosplay, breasts, chocolate… and the list goes on and on.
At no point do I ever single someone out as being unreasonable until the Unfollow button gets hit, and only then does it becomes personal. The very act of removal is confirmation to them that something has happened that I don’t like. That’s why Mute can often be considered the coward’s solution to a problematic follower: far easier just to remove them and kop the flack. In fact, it would be fair to assume that had I been more careful and considered my choices to begin with, then there wouldn’t be an issue, but it is often hard to form considered opinions of people when they’re not standing in front of you: that’s why Facebook’s friends of friends concept is such an addictive one. If person X knows you and two genuinely close friends, their choices will be people who mesh with you, right?
The truth is, of course, utter bollocks. That’s why some of us refuse to allow Facebook to dictate terms, and will reassess ‘friends’ on an almost weekly basis. That’s even more true when there’s a contentious issue: I am more than happy to disagree with people, and that happens with predictable regularity. What I’m not prepared to entertain, at any point, is someone else deciding a) what I am thinking and b) what I should do as a result of this. We can not vote the same way, like the same music or even agree on anything at all. I am able to do civil and polite with the entire planet right up to the point where someone points a metaphorical finger at me and states what I have to do because this is what is wrong.
That is the moment when trust is lost, but not always for good.
I’ve disagreed with people before, but if when engaging them in dialogue I can believe that there is still a basis for communication, that’s how it works. Everybody can not see eye to eye from time to time, after all. If it becomes apparent that there’s no point in trying to communicate because what I believe isn’t considered either relevant or important, then it is time to reassess. Maybe it is not just my outlook exacerbating the situation: this same person isn’t listening to others either, apparent by the interactions with others I can read and see taking place around us. If their interest is unnecessarily obsessive, or inward facing, or they’re just a shitposting troublemaker? Time eventually shows up the flaws.
If you wait, everybody fucks up eventually, and it is how those moments are dealt with that becomes the real measure of their online persona.
Why do I do all this navel gazing, I hear some of you ask? I learn from it and it helps me understand how this part of the World works. It allows me to grasp how human beings react in certain situations. Many people, often without realising, reveal sides of themselves online I suspect they wish weren’t as public as are currently the case. It is a delicate balancing act, which most of the sane and sensible individuals deal with by not pressing Tweet or posting on Facebook to begin with, because their real lives are more important than the virtual one. As a writer I balance between disparate worlds on a daily basis, and sitting here trying to find the right sentences to use becomes another part of the understanding process. To communicate successfully to others is no mean feat, I am now discovering, and to make the best job takes far more effort than may people ever really grasp.
It is never an easy task to shout anywhere; to have confidence in a virtual space is not as simple as many would believe. What matters more is to find a voice, and once that is accomplished to learn the best means by which you can explain yourself to a wider audience than just yourself. It is a vital part of human development, and without that internal belief it can be a hard and painful journey to take alone. More importantly still, thinking why things happen and to understand you are as responsible for events that happen around you as anyone else is an important means by which one defines your overall significance (or otherwise) in the communities you are a part of.
The people that surround you are as much a measure of your personality as you are yourself, and knowing that means a constant reassessment of your aquaintances can never be a bad thing.