There are times when I long for the days of getting news only three times a day. First thing in the morning, we’d find out about what happened overnight. In the evening, we’d learn about the news of the day – particularly from overseas after collecting stories during our workday. And at nighttime, before going to bed, we’d get a recap of all of the important stuff that happened. During the course of the day, we’d talk about what was going on in the world. At work, we’d have conversations about local or world events, sports, and entertainment. Everyone had heard the stories, read the morning paper, and we’d spend time debating our points of view, finding people who shared common beliefs, and really giving each other the courtesy of dialogue and conversation. If we were students, we’d have “current event” segments. Students brought relevant newspaper articles into the classroom; world events provided a backdrop for subjects of history, civics and geography, giving relevance to rather boring topics that would otherwise necessitate memorization of timelines, diagrams or map coloring (although I loved coloring maps). The operative word here is Dialogue. We had conversations against a common backdrop, building on one another’s perspectives, gave value to their thoughts, and responded with our own. We learned from, and developed mutual respect for, one another through these important interactions.
Today, in the world where there are countless sources of information that require a constant stream of content, the dynamics of how we converse and interact has changed dramatically. We are bombarded with information as we open our media feeds in the morning. Stories that trend have often little to do with world events, and more to do with general interest. The color of a dress, the divorce of a celebrity couple, and the impact of a bombing in the Asia all seem to get equal weight. Conversations at the water cooler and dinner table cover a myriad of topics, thanks to everything we read and see, but at some point, it is likely interrupted by a “fact check” when someone makes a comment that prompts curiosity or disagreement. The conversation is then diverted into one of looking up information on a device, prompting further searches, and likely less apt to conclude in reflection, debate, or shared viewpoints. In fact, the conversation is often ended when the disagreement is resolved, and the topic turns to another subject. Interestingly, our access to information has curbed our ability to dialogue, reflect, and truly learn about one another.
Social media plays an interesting role in this new age. Vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram give individuals a convenient way of taking part in the 24/7 phenomena. Stories we come across are easily shared, political stories provide a platform for commentary, and otherwise minor news stories manage to go viral. We can all be publishers, pollsters, and recording artists. Our views, whether about politics or the cuteness of baby goats, spurred by likes and supportive comments can be expressed vehemently without the need to have a face-to-face dialogue with an opposing view (although who would ever argue about cuteness of baby goats?). Our own biases are strengthened by the news feeds that we follow regularly, and to prove them, we post those feeds over and over, giving power to those sources that work hard to find stories 24/7.
I have nothing against baby goats or politics. I find them both intriguing and worthy of dialogue. But the last word is the operative: Dialogue. We don’t really do it as much anymore. We are bombarded (and bombarding one another) with information without giving ourselves time to reflect and dialogue, setting aside the data. A very wise person told me yesterday that 90% of written words have been written in the last 2-3 years. That is amazing. I do not need to fact check that, because he’s a wise person. But it really makes me think and realize what an incredible world we live in. Technology enables an incredible amount of information to be shared and readily available. The yin to that yang is that relationships with colleagues, friends, and children can change, and we can easily miss out on the humanity of one another, and the opportunity to grow from human dialogue and a true exchange of ideas.