Conversation In A Social Media World

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Contributed by Matt Steele

We have lost the ability to communicate. In our society, it is far easier to become offended than to have dialogue with people around us. Personally, I place part of the blame on social media. With the advent of this phenomenon, it has become immeasurably easy to become shallow in day to day life. With a few finger flicks on a phone or a few clicks on a computer, anyone can easily become a voyeur, and it is truly easy to forget that what is presented is not always what is real.

Rather than allow this to be a rant against the modern era, I will say here that I believe that the cause and the cure are one and the same regarding our inability to converse. I love social media. It’s fun, it’s easy and it’s an effective way to convey a message to a large audience. Just like any tool, when used appropriately it can be of wonderful advantage. I use several different apps in both my work and personal life. I have a very spread out and diverse range of people in my circle. Sharing pictures of my kids and my aviation experiences is now easier than it has ever been in the history of mankind.

Just like so many things in life, there is good mixed in with the bad. The world is more than screen-dimensional. I have character, I have private moments, I have thoughts that I don’t share and I have internal conflicts that I keep to myself on a sometimes moment to moment basis. This depth is what rounds me out as a human being. I am not my online posts. My online posts are a product of me.

This is the crux which we find ourselves against.

Because we are wired as a species for efficient gratification, we are drawn towards the online friendships of others. It is much easier to form online relationships than the effort it takes to maintain them in real life. Over time, the longer we disengage from dialogue, the harder it is to re-engage back into it. We forget how to have civil conversations. We forget how to love and listen. We forget how to communicate. 

It seems quite silly when put in writing, but I can’t think of a time in recent memory where any two adults in my life who hold opposing views were able to hold a civil and unemotional conversation. Every instance that comes to memory ended with one of the adults being overcome with emotions and forcing an end to the debate. Not only is this unhealthy, it is anti-intellectual.

This is a sad scenario. When people are unable to separate emotion from the ability to rationalize, they become closed to thoughts that are in opposition to their preconceived concepts. Then they lose the ability to learn. This is the state of political and social discourse in the world, and it doesn’t just end with hurt feelings. I am incredibly nervous about putting a sticker on my car that aligns myself with any social or political cause. Doing so has the possibility of endangering myself and my family, but it also “alienates” customers and friends since so few people retain the possibility of having civil conversation and respect an opposing view. Tempers flare and emotions run deep, and violence is all too common over concepts and opinions today. Everyone should strive to move past that, or at a minimum learn to compartmentalize the emotional response. Our society is in dire need of debate and open conversation. 

Because I have never been a fan of writing about problems without solutions, I think the answer is quite blunt. If something offends you, it is your responsibility alone to reconcile that within yourself. If you find yourself in opposition to someone else’s point of view, I challenge you to talk and to listen. Ask questions and engage on a meaningful level. Lastly, I encourage you to embrace the ability to “meet” so many people online, but get to know the person on the other side of the screen rather than who their online persona is. You might find yourself surprised.