This post is off topic from the types of things I have traditionally shared on this blog. But it's something that is resonating with me right now. Feel free to ignore if it's not of interest to you.
I'm not particularly concerned about the whole Facebook / Cambridge Analytica thing: I have always been careful about what I share in Facebook, just in case. But what I am concerned about is the way that Facebook and other sites allow, even encourage, people to retreat into their own ideological bubbles. Most of us don't do this on purpose - we just tend to have friends who come from similar backgrounds and have similar viewpoints to our own. If we follow a news outlet, whether via television, podcast, or radio, or newspaper or magazine, we follow the one that makes us comfortable.
But the result of this is an ever-increasing polarization of the country. It's not just that people don't agree with one another's viewpoints - it's that they often can't even fathom how someone else could think the way that they do. This phenomenon has been building for a while, but obviously there was a sharp increase after the 2016 Presidential election. The social media sites build on this by showing is ever more of the kids of things that we like and share. Often they show us even more extreme versions, to the left of the right, as some have documented recently.
Many people are fine with this, of course, and that is their choice. But for various reasons, I am NOT fine with this for myself. Here are some some things that I've been doing:
- When possible, I read two newspapers every day. The San Jose Mercury News is biased to the left (as are most mainstream newspapers), and contains local news and weather that I like to keep up with. Even when I'm traveling, I still try to read it online. The Wall Street Journal is biased somewhat to the right, and also contains much more in-depth national and international coverage than the local paper. Since reading both papers (something I've been doing for several years), I've noticed which stories are covered in which publication, and which are ignored. This can be fascinating.
- I also subscribe to news magazines covering a range of perspectives, and of course find similar patterns of inclusion and omission.
- I read Hillbilly Elegy, and highly recommend it for increasing understanding of those who are not "coastal elites." I'm reading other nonfiction titles about being more skeptical in the consumption of news and data, too.
- Recently, I've been attempting to ideologically diversify my Twitter feed (this would be pretty much impossible for me on Facebook). I'm following a range of news sources and personalities there. I also have carefully created a (private) list of fewer than 100 news sources. I find that skimming through the tweets for this smaller pool of people and news outlets gives me the variety in viewpoints that I am seeking. Sometimes this is disconcerting, as when there are highly varied reactions to the same event. But it is working for me. I often have to stop and think: "OK, who is saying this?". It's making me a more skeptical consumer of news, something that I think is important in this day and age.
This is all obviously time-consuming, and it has certainly cut into my blogging. Generally speaking, I'm more interested right now in news and politics than in talking about individual books (though I love reading books more than ever). I'm more fired up about threats to freedom of speech than I am about the need for more diverse books (though I'm happy to see those numbers increasing, and glad that other people are championing it). I am more concerned about the educational system (testing, homework, and practices that sap students' joy of learning) than I am about, well, a lot of things (though I'll always care deeply about growing bookworms). In all of these areas, I've found that it's extremely helpful, though not always comfortable, to broaden the ideological perspective of what I'm reading. So that's what I'm trying to do.
I'm not sure where all this is going to lead, in terms of my blog. I'll do another post about that soon, once I figure a few things out. Meanwhile, I welcome your feedback. Do you prefer to stay in your ideological bubble, or do you try to reach out? Do you think that it's hopelessly naive to try to understand how the people on the other side of the issues think? Do you think that I'll just end up with a headache from reading too many different opinions? Time will tell.... Thanks for reading!