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Are we all listening to a different America in echo chambers of our own making?
When the government actually shut down last night, I, like millions of Americans, couldn’t believe it. It happened.
What? “I can’t believe it.” That was what I actually said, plus a few other profane words that we all uttered.
I was mad. Pissed. I wanted to scream out my window just like Peter Finch’s character did in Network.
But my neighbors wouldn’t take to kindly to it.
Ten years ago, I might have headed to the local bar around the corner and knocked back a few with a few other angry citizens. But now, I didn’t need a bar. I didn’t even need a drink.
I just needed Facebook. Oh, how I needed you, Facebook. I needed to vent. I needed to rant. I needed to kvetch. And I did.
I couldn’t sleep. So while my partner slept, I tapped. I scrolled. I liked. I posted.
“So kids, lemme see if I get the lesson here: if you act just like your government, you play by the rules. You fight as hard as you can to win. When in the end you lose, you refuse to give up. You yell and scream until you get your way. When that doesn’t work, you shut down your school..oh hell..you shut down the district…wait..you shut down the whole country. You put a bunch of people out of work and tell everyone that it’s your opponents’ fault because heck, they could have just given you what you wanted. Too bad it’s not a game. This could yank the whole country back into a recession.”
People “liked” it. They commented.
I posted again.
“I can’t be the only one who is too angry to sleep. If you don’t think this government shutdown is personal, then you do not rely on this economy for your livelihood.
People liked again.
It felt good.
People “liked” my posts. People responded. Yes. They agreed: Yes, they assured me, the Republicans really were behaving like spoiled children, and a lot worse.
Yes, they were angry too.
Yes, they didn’t want our President to cave into their demands.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I was still mad, but I could sleep.
When I woke up this morning, I immediately checked my Facebook. There was that reassuring little red bubble on myiPhone. It meant one thing: There were more comments. There were more likes.
It felt so good. Like a drug. Maybe because it is.
After checking out my Facebook page, I turned on my NPR app. The President was going to make a speech. We flipped on the TV and turned to CNN. And there, standing before us in HD glory was Newt Gingrich. And he was blaming Obama, of course.
Inside, I started broiling. How could he? He doesn’t represent us! Just check out Facebook! Everyone agreed with me!
True, more Americans blame the Republicans than they do Democrats, but I really was only seeing one side.
The last time I weighed in on a particularly partisan battle (I’ve been doing it a lot more since being released as a mainstream media reporter, formerly banned from expressing political opinions in public), I saw many sides of the issue.
There were people in my feed with whom I violently disagreed. I’ll admit that part of me thought of unfriending them. But then I stopped myself.
No, I told myself. You need to hear them. If you, a journalist by nature—someone who has been trained to carefully weigh all sides of an issue—can’t talk to people with whom you disagree, how do you expect others to do it?
So even as my finger hovered over the “unfriend” button, I decided to keep them as friends.
But guess what? Somewhere along the line, they unfriended me. They didn’t like listening to my left-leaning rants any more than I liked listening to their right-leaning ones. And I hadn’t even noticed.
I hadn’t missed them, just as I hadn’t missed seeing Gingrich’s wobbly face ranting about “Obamacare.”
So we were listening to two, three, four—probably more—different Americas.
We were all in echo chambers of our own making.
And maybe that’s part of the larger problem—how it is that allegedly sane, moral people can have such radically different perceptions of the country.
Because we each curate our own feeds in our social networks, we’re only seeing the slice of the universe that we’ve chosen to see.
Even if your particular side is correct and the other side is dead wrong, this can’t be good for us. It can’t be good for democracy.
So does this mean I’m going to go out and friend my fellow Tea Partiers? Hmmm. Doubtful, to be honest. They probably wouldn’t want to friend me.
But I definitely will reach out of my comfort zone to at least read what the other side has to say. And then I’ll probably complain about it on Facebook.
That’s my God-given American right. Isn’t it?
Janet Kornblum is a writer and media trainer who chronicles the shifting landscape of social media and its influence on society.
Photo by MonsieurLui/Flickr
Janet Kornblum was the Daily Dot's first features editor. She works as a journalist and licensed private investigator in the Bay Area, and she has contributed reporting and photography to USA Today and CNET.