Technology doesn’t divide us. People divide us.
Technology doesn’t divide us; it’s simply a set of tools used by people for whom division has always been the goal. The ideas we choose to embrace — or reject — are what ultimately shape our future. In that sense, technology is just another tool available for use in achieving whatever goals we may set for ourselves as individuals, communities, or societies.
Too often, we retreat into our little online bubbles, only engaging with those who share our views and values. But this isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s just a new way of doing things. People have always sought out others like themselves — a human instinct and inclination. It has been exploited, time and time again, by demagogues and dictators to significant effect.
Blaming the current state of our social and political discourse on technology as if it’s an overwhelmingly negative force against which we are powerless is both defeatist and inaccurate. It’s a way of abdicating our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other, giving up on the idea of progress, and embracing the narcissism and egocentricity of our present status quo.
We need to be better than that. We can be better than that. The fact is, we are not powerless. We can choose how we use technology, just as we decide how we use any other tool. We can use technology to build bridges or erect barriers. A computer is as much a force for social division as a typewriter, a printing press, or a megaphone.
The think-pieces that decry social media as the doom of our social order make for good clickbait, but they do little to exacerbate the hellscape of our public discourse; by insisting on a shallow interpretation of our reality, they distract us from the actual work that needs to be done. They distract us from the vitriol, the rhetoric, and the red vs. blue ideology pushed onto us by commentators and pundits on both the left and the right of our political spectrum, all of whom profit from the viral spread of messages that demonize their opponents.
Technology is neither friend nor foe — it’s simply a shovel. A screwdriver. A hammer. And it’s up to us to examine the information we are fed by our tech-enabled communication channels and to decide for ourselves what is worth paying attention to and what is not. Technology is a tool that can help us build bridges or erect barriers, but it is not — and should not — be the determining factor in which path we choose to take.
The first step is acknowledging how we use technology as a choice. We can choose to use it to connect with others, or we can use it to further divide us. Taking responsibility for what we say, what we do, and what we believe, we must work to find common ground with those who may hold different views and not allow a rectangular glass screen to take the fall for our shortcomings.