I’ve noticed that in so many areas these days, people have their minds made up. About what? Well, pretty much everything. The thing is, I can’t decide if this happened as I’ve gotten older, meaning that people have gotten more decisive, or because I’ve gotten older, where maybe people have been this way all along, but I never really noticed it until now?
I’ve always said that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion at social gatherings, work, or even within family, because it’s likely you’re going to stir up the pot. This is very true. It seems in both of those realms, people have their mind made up, so is a meaningful, thought provoking discussion really possible?
If a hardcore liberal and an ultra conservative person get together and start talking politics, what do you think the chances are that they will find common ground? Probably not. But, this element has always been there. What’s different now is how far reaching this has gone. Now, one of those people could be talking to someone who’s squarely in the middle, and there is still a big possibility of an argument. Because, in many cases these days, the person who is so steadfast in their beliefs not only looks down upon those who have opposing beliefs, but they look down on anyone who doesn’t unequivocally share their beliefs altogether. So, before, you could have two people talking about government health care, and the only real chance an argument would break out would be between those who favored versus those who opposed it. Now, you’d have either one of those people getting in the faces of someone who just wasn’t sure or who didn’t have a strong opinion either way.
That’s kind of sad.
How did we get there?
Instant information. I think that access to information at the tip of your fingers is great, but it also means that there are many more informational sources, and most of them are going to give you much more than just the information. Think about how something like Obamacare would have been presented fifty years ago. There were three TV networks, and chances are you had one or two local newspapers, and together these sources would be the source of most peoples knowledge.
This meant that people could focus more on the subject.
Now, think about all the sources of information you could use to gather information on the topic. You have a couple of dozen TV channels that can provide information in one fashion or another. You have Facebook, Twitter and other social media. You have online news sites, many of which claim to be news sites, but are more ‘opinion columns’. You have blogs, which number in the millions.
All of these things together offer many times the amount of information you used to get. So, how can this be a bad thing?
Because we allow this information to form our thinking. Fifty years ago, with just a couple of networks and a couple of papers, people did not have the wealth of knowledge and certainly not the amount of opinion behind those things. What this forced people to do was form opinions on their own. They didn’t have the luxury of finding out, at a moments notice, what 5,000,000 other Americans thought about the subject. In many cases, if the media source presented the information in a neutral fashion, you had no choice but to form an opinion on a basis of the facts available.
Talking things over. Back in the old days, in addition to the limited media information that you had available, you also had another way to gather information and form opinions: Talking with other people. After you read about the change in the newspaper or saw Walter Cronkite talking about it on TV for a couple of minutes, you had to go and gather the information on your own.
You could talk to your friends. You could talk to your neighbors. You could hear what they think, and because you only had limited information and you didn’t have people screaming at you how you should think, it kept your mind open so that discussions could actually lead to opinions being formed.
Can this happen in our information saturated world today?
I’m not naive enough to think that fifty years ago, every person walked around with an open mind on every topic, and you could have an engaging discussion about anything with anyone. I’m sure that’s far from the truth. There are close-minded people and people who have formed their opinions, and there always have been.
I just think that there were fewer of them back then.
I also think that back then, even if you had formed an opinion on something, you could often have a conversation about a topic with someone who didn’t see things your way, and still end up having an engaging discussion.
Nowadays, I go to Facebook and I see people with left-leaning tendencies start a post talking about ‘those idiot Republicans’ or vice versa. Regardless of how I feel either way, that type of wording is problematic because it shuts down any and all possibility of a meaningful dialogue.
People think they’re right. The opportunities that social media have created are endless. It allows you to connect with people you might not interact with on a day to day basis. It allows you to gather information in a moments notice that you might not otherwise even know existed. But, it also gives everybody a voice. It makes everybody think that their voice needs to be heard, especially if it’s a topic on which they feel strongly about.
The fact is that just because you feel strongly about something doesn’t make you an expert and it certainly doesn’t make you right. Unfortunately, this is a point largely lost these days where being given a platform makes people automatically assume that they’re right and anyone else who doesn’t see things exactly as they do is wrong.
I wish people would subscribe more to the old adage that it’s better to listen than to speak. The world would be a better place for it.
Readers, do you see the same thing I see here or has it been this way all along and I’m just seeing things with a different perspective as I get older?