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The problem isn't too many friends, it's too little enemies
I had a theory about social media, I think I am wrong
For the longest time I had a personal theory around the impact of social media on our society. The theory was more or less:
Social media created the echo chambers for the craziest people to connect with each other. And now who once was the “crazy dude” in his village, will find more “crazy dudes” and start believing their own bullshit.
Creating a reinforcing feedback loop that eventually spills out into the real world.
In hindsight this was a pretty smug way to describe the world, it put me and the people like me above others, made the Q-Anon folks or the furries a footnote. But in reality I was the one believing his own bullshit, this theory doesn’t explain what happened.
A reflection of our society
I grew up in a small town, 15.000 people more or less, and I had the opportunity to grow side by side with people that had very little in common with me on almost everything except the fact that we were friends.
Growing up with friends that ended up in very different path of life forced me to deal with our differences, it exposed me to adventures and problems I would have never experienced in my life otherwise (Have you ever seen an actual engine disassembled?). It forced me also to see how different families lived, with different salaries and different level of education.
Maybe even more importantly it forced a certain level of conflict between different ways of thinking.
Growing up my region was a solid socialist stronghold (not anymore sadly) with plenty of initiatives and opportunity to confront with each other.
That didn’t mean everyone thought the same about everything obviously, and you couldn’t avoid each other forever. You would at some point end up having discussion while drinking something, and disagreements could be heated but eventually you had a choice: keep talking it through or fight. Socially, fights are not really appreciated.
This is a crucial part of small town life, and something it took me a long time to appreciate late in life.
My experience is typical of people that grew up in smaller towns, and in general it’s the typical experience of who grows up in areas in which society is not stratified.
Today our cities are growingly stratified: where you live depends a lot on your family salary, it has a big influence on which school you go and which friends you make. The opportunity to meet people in real life that have a different opinion than you but are still enjoyable are becoming less and less, this is the root of the problem, what is destroying our society.
Social media is just a technological enabler of this disconnection, once the physical aspect gone (and therefore the complete lack of consequences for anti-social behavior) the only way to cope with trolls was to create more moderation.
This a quote I took from the latest edition offrom SBF (the fallen hero of FTX):
So, it's definitely true for a lot of people that a more well rounded environment is better. But I'm not one of those people. I've realized this about myself--I'm much more comfortable and happy when I'm around people like me.
And who wouldn’t! The real courage is to be around people that are NOT like you.
Today we live in the algorithmic paradise of disconnection: we either follow only certain people and literally block words on Twitter (till it implodes in a black hole) or just get fed from TikTok exactly what we want to see and hear.
It’s a recipe for disaster.
Not a technology problem
I want to stress out that this is not a technology problem, this is a cultural problem.
We are now, more than ever, easy to be offended by what we don’t like. The MAGA folks and the SJW are just the two extremes of the sprectrum, and they share the hate for the other side. What they also share is the inability to communicate with anyone else that is not aligned, any deviation from the doctrine is seen as a betrayal or evil.
You know who thinks this way? Religions
The growing disconnection that is happening across society, largely I believe due to how physically and virtually partitioned we are, is making us allergic to anything different, it making us religious.
The good news is that we can do something about this!
Start from your workplace and resist any action that is pushing people to discuss “only certain topics” in different channels, join your local community and talk to strangers.
If we want to give our modern society a chance to survive we have to reconnect. Not ditch our technological means but maybe augment your experience with real life interactions, as uncomfortable as they might be.