How social media silences debate

“Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends … The Internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarization of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different. Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us.”

I’ve been thinking about this study a lot. I think this is mostly true, though I’m not sure that government surveillance example was the best case to test “the spiral of silence.” I’d be more curious about the protests in Ferguson and race relations in the U.S. and social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, etc.

Aside from the actual study, I think the findings largely comport with the fact that social media, at least in terms of Facebook and Twitter, are actually not that great for debate in the first place (I’d argue that blogging and very, very few comment sections can be more civilized and productive) and that many people don’t feel the need to express their opinions in a pseudo-public place (versus in-person) anyway for any multitude of reasons, but most likely for employment purposes.

The researchers set out to investigate the effect of the Internet on the so-called spiral of silence, a theory that people are less likely to express their views if they believe they differ from those of their friends, family and colleagues. The Internet, many people thought, would do away with that notion because it connects more heterogeneous people and gives even minority voices a bullhorn.


Instead, the researchers found, the Internet reflects the offline world, where people have always gravitated toward like-minded friends and shied away from expressing divergent opinions.
(There is a reason for the old rule to avoid religion or politics at the dinner table.)

And in some ways, the Internet has deepened that divide. It makes it easy for people to read only news and opinions from people they agree with. In many cases, people don’t even make that choice for themselves.

(Emphasis is mine.) The in-person facet and the platforms’ algorithms are the most interesting to me than the need or willingness to express divergent opinions though. I think a lot about how people get their news THEN interact and process that information with those they know, whether it’s friends, family, or colleagues.

via New York Times / Pew Research

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Here’s a polite person’s trick

When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”

via Paul Ford on Medium
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Talk to a stranger today

I’m cleaning out my Instapaper right now as I’m in between books. So, here:

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Individuals and governments pour money into making commutes slightly more bearable by investing in everything from noise-canceling headphones to more spacious seating. But what if the research showed that we would improve our commutes more by investing in social capital — interacting with the strangers sitting all around us?

 

The great thing about strangers is that we tend to put on our happy face when we meet them, reserving our crankier side for the people we know and love … Many of us assume, however, that our well-being depends on our closest ties, and not on the minor characters in our daily lives … [however] introverts and extroverts alike felt happier on days when they had more social interactions.

 

More surprisingly, interactions with weak ties correlated at least as highly with happiness as interactions with strong ties. Even the bit players in our lives may influence our well-being.

via The New York Times, photo by hannu.oskala used under a Creative Commons license.

An idle mind is a crucible of creativity

One of the biggest complaints in modern society is being overscheduled, overcommitted and overextended. Ask people at a social gathering how they are and the stock answer is ‘super busy,’ ‘crazy busy’ or ‘insanely busy.’ Nobody is just ‘fine’ anymore,” writes Kate Murphy in The New York Times.

A study shows how far people are willing to go to avoid introspection: 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think. Murphy writes about how people are prone to dwell on our problems and other negative things when left with their thoughts, so this becomes an uncomfortable feeling if you’re not “intrinsically good at reflecting.” Instead, people opt for busyness and distractions, of which there’s no shortage. But giving yourself time to reflect can enhance your ability to empathize with others and encourage creativity. This is interesting to me because I feel the exact opposite: I’m always trying to make more time to reflect.

Something experts suggest, which I think sounds effective (I say “sounds” because I haven’t consciously tried this yet) despite it being deceptively simple, is: Use third-person pronouns or your own name instead of first-person pronouns when thinking of your own problems. “If a friend comes to you with a problem it’s easy to coach them through it, but if the problem is happening to us we have real difficulty, in part because we have all these egocentric biases making it hard to reason rationally,” Ethan Kross, director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, tells Murphy. Makes sense.

Semi-related, it also makes me think of Vietnamese pronouns and how the norm is to refer to yourself in third-person, which I’ve always had trouble with given the variety of ways you can refer to yourself depending who you’re talking with. And unfortunately, my default is assume I’m talking with a grownup, so I use the “one’s child” pronoun. Please don’t speak with me in Vietnamese if you’re not my parent, it’s embarrassing. I’ll stop short of psycho-cultural analysis though.

Anyway, for whatever it’s worth, what I’ve made an effort to do for the better part of this year was to avoid complaining or mentioning how “busy” I am, whether that’s solicited or just in casual conversation. There’s really nothing more behind it than me believing that, well, so is everyone else.

PS. I just added a Hustle & Flow category because it felt appropriate.
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Best things I’ve read this week

 

I read a lot and also like to share

I’ve been meaning to have a place for the exhaust of my day-to-day and off-day readings and meanderings around the web that’s more personal than my blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc, etc. (I want to get to know you!) It’ll be a mix of media and journalism, but mostly other things I’m interested in like foreign affairs, politics, tech, culture, travel, etc. And sometimes updates about what I’ve been up to.

 

** Oh and this is NOT a morning tip sheet. It’s more like a lazy Sunday afternoon, or whenever I have time, love note.