A Web of Partisanship

I am sitting here with a cuppa coffee and several news feeds I subscribe to open. I also have MY social media feeds open and a net-based music provider open, tuned to a channel I programmed in. All of these things are designed for me, for my likes and dislikes. I have shut out the world I do not want. I have been given the tools to do so.Thank you World Wide Web.

But, wait. Should I be thanking you? You have made it so much easier to be a partisan in the world. I never have to see, hear or read things I disagree with. All I have to do on my social media feeds is shut off the connection, on my news feeds I can mute something or stop receiving posts from the feed. My music is programmed to the last ‘nth’, and I never have to hear anything I don’t like. I am such an individual, and I can program everything according to what I want. I never need to see, hear or read anything else.

The web contributes so much to our cocooning. And I feel it is contributing to the rising partisanship in the world. Political and social, we are cocooning ourselves off from anything we don’t agree with. On the receiving end we are able to narrow focus our life experiences, on the content producing end we are separating out each niche, creating web sites, forums and feeds that cater to specific demographics and psychographics. Even in book publishing, with the rise of self-publishing, we are able to cater to niche markets, each author able to publish stories that reflect their personal ideas and ideals, to be sold or given to those who want to consume those niche ideas and ideals.

In the real world, we are slowly and effectively cocooning as well, choosing to live in like-minded communities, or to associate with like-minded people both at work and in our personal lives. When groups come together over a single or maybe two threads of sameness, they can just as easily come apart as egos and differing mindsets arise. We then take to the web and block out these people, their ideas. We add more layers of the partisan cocoon.

Is this what the web was supposed to do for us? I don’t think so. It was supposed to help bring us together. To allow us to hear, see and read about things that we don’t agree with so we could understand the other sides of issues. Instead we are shutting out everything except the tragedies that bring us all together. We mourn the dead, and then go right back to taking sides on issues that perhaps contributed to the tragedies. We cocoon ourselves in partisan places on the web and refuse to budge from them. And the web continues to add more niches as more small factions make themselves known.

I think today I might try taking down some of those layers of cocooning. It will probably feel weird, or disgust me, or maybe it will hurt and I will cry and rage. But I think I will be a stronger person for having looked, heard and read things outside of my partisan cocoon.

4 thoughts on “A Web of Partisanship

  1. The flip side of this is that the web makes it easier to maintain minority opinions. In realspace, if you hold a view that 95% of the people around you disagree with, there is a lot of pressure to conform. Online, you have the option of finding other members of the 5% and talking with them.

    Shortly after WWII, a group of classical liberals, people who believed in small government and the free market, formed an organization called the Mont Pelerin Society. Part of the reason, in an academic world with an overwhelming consensus in favor of policies ranging from dirigisme to socialism, the individuals felt isolated. The MPS gave them an opportunity, for a few days of the year, to interact with people sympathetic to their views. Over the next few decades, members of the society played a large role in the revival of pro-market views.

    It’s a lot easier online.

    Even without the web, it’s easy enough for people who adhere to whatever is the current orthodoxy to ignore opposing views. Even with the web, if most of the people around you disagree with your beliefs you are likely to notice and have lots of opportunities of hearing their views.

    • Part of what I have seen is that people choose to live and associate, even in the real world, with likeminded people. True, it is easier to maintain your opinions, minority or not, on the web, but its also getting easier in the world. Even if we live around people who do not share our views, we ignore them. We cocoon ourselves against those who do not share ideas and ideals. The web has only intensified the problem.

      • “also getting easier”

        I think it’s always been easy.

        The net has effects in both directions. It’s easier to find the others who agree with you. But it’s also easy to get into conversations with people you have something else in common with, recognize them as reasonable people, and then discover that they disagree with your views on politics, religion, or whatever.

  2. True, Dr. Friedman. Connections are a large part of the web experience. You might find someone who you agree with on one or two things, and then discover their personal politics are totally opposite, or their views on religion or religious practice are opposite. Do you continue to converse with them on the things you have in common, or do you cut off contact because you know that there are other things you don’t want to converse about? The general answer for most people is – cut off contact. Which is sad. Debate and discussion of large issues are what helps drive policy, law and freedoms.

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