Global Storming: Addressing the Danger within Isolated Climates of Thought
For many of us, the marvels of technology abound in the twenty-first century. We stream movies, download audiobooks and conduct research across the archives of the Internet. Over time, even the conveniences of the mp3 player and the omnipresent credit card were merged with the now-ubiquitous smart phone. Video chat has become standard practice, wireless technology links strangers and companions alike, online dating has surged forth and our videos, pictures and websites look better than ever. Skeptics and the faithful alike admit the unprecedented connection we have with one another. But as I see it at present, we are less inter-connected and more intra-connected.
This past summer has illustrated that distinction in an unsettling way. Our country, like any other, is a tapestry woven of differing opinions, backgrounds, belief systems and lifestyles. And while we champion diversity and freedom of speech in America, these noble ideals seem squandered at this period in history. In my observation, we do not Skype with strangers, nor do try to relate to speeches of our political opponents. We are not emailing people of different racial, ethnic or religious heritage with honest curiosity and well-intentioned desire for communication. These technological portals have done little to broaden our humanity and are often used to narrow its definition. We each pursue the universal, often subconscious fallacy that "we" are the carriers of truth and those we will never meet are, by default, in pursuit of false ideas and lesser humanity.
To be clear, I have personally stumbled on each aforementioned pitfall. I think it's natural to flock to one's own, to embrace the nearest sources of wisdom, love and friendship in our lives. The alternative journey offers an uncertain and potentially long path to and through "the foreign". But in an era with ever-expanding avenues for connection, are we not capable of trying what technology offers to facilitate despite our societal burdens?
I worry, as I witness the firm and combative stances on issues of those who will lead us, the lives that matter and how to identify and protect what and whom we find most precious (among many other present concerns). We appear less capable of communication and genuine dialogue. We lunge at sound bites, inarticulate rhetoric and personal failures to distract (and appease) ourselves from intelligent debate and natural disagreement. We prefer political apologies to sincere promises to become better human beings, because we secretly prefer the feeling of moral superiority to the image of a cooperative world. That illustration may well wither as we see compromise through the lens of mutual loss rather than shared achievement. And in my observation, it is human nature to trend towards what we naturally find to be true and deny any other interpretations or possibility. But the trend towards convenience and an "interconnected" world will not produce the automatic and often technological remedies to which we've grown accustomed. That result requires an acknowledgement of our tendencies and a collective interest in responding to them.
As we disagree with one another, the short term consequences appear negligible. Hot tempers cool off and part ways before gradually and begrudgingly finding a solution together, if at all. But the call for humility is never made and its response will not ring out in a landscape where any of us can readily call upon like-minded allies. We are socially partial to similarity in belief, opinion and background and even the social media we use is programmed to accommodate this preference. And as we make the choice, time and again, to retreat within our respective thought fortresses, the will to lower the drawbridge begins to evaporate.
The Internet will not cease to help us find global companions who share our concerns, values and feelings. The smart-phone, in whatever form it may take, will always allow us to tap into the limitless world of information. These are among the tools of the Digital Age, an era many see as the Crowded Age of overpopulation and increased strain on our resources and collective patience. But I am optimistic that on this furthest foray into the vast expanse of the future, we live in the time of Abundant Humanity. There are more living souls, in more places and with more unique insights and perspectives, than there have ever been. We have billions of opportunities to disagree, isolate and pursue factions, if that is how we choose to utilize the technology and the knowledge we have available. But for the world at our fingertips, we are not denied the opportunity to listen. To offer fewer proclamations of truth and ask more honest questions of one another. I am not so naive to believe that conversation alone will save the world or prevent catastrophe, but in the absence of sincere and respectful short-term communication, empathy seems bound to an avoidable collapse.
We are the people we surround ourselves with. It has long been said that our friends are those who will determine our future. But the beautiful sides of humanity we have the rare occasion to glimpse in the victories of our champions, the poetics of our heroes and the stalwart sacrifices of our saviors do not belong to a single group or community. We are collectively - in present, past and future - humanity and all it is capable of producing. In what is a decidedly difficult existence, we have made humanity a form of competition to accelerate the divisions mentioned above. Being right has become our goal. And while it may appear to serve the individual, it begins to tear at the fibers of understanding one another. In my eyes, humanity, like the aforementioned technology, is as much a trait as it is a tool to be used. A trait we have historically attempted to confirm in "Us" and surgically remove in "Them". And while we have ceaselessly used this tool to justify our actions as a privileged and "superior" species, we neglect the depths of empathy, imagination and communication it most prominently affords to us.
As an example, you might disagree with every statement, claim and thought I've presented here. I hope some do, and those who don't will have nuanced and various reasons of their own. I believe in the unity which humanity presents, but not in the homogeneity that could entail. We often fear censorship from a higher, malevolent power, but I more readily dread the silence which emerges from a clatter of words, all seeking even the smallest audience. True listening is not always pleasant, easy or instantaneously productive. It does not necessitate an expensive education, a pedigree of excellence or a decades-long career. In fact, these titles and positions many seek to differentiate themselves may undermine this goal. Those bridges do require, however, a mutual willingness and the humility to reach across the gap.