Monday, November 14, 2016

Bubbles and Echo Chambers

I started writing this in my head a couple of days ago and many folks that write much better than I do have already captured a lot of what I'm thinking better than I will, but I still feel the need to work through this - and it doesn't count if I don't put it out there for others to argue with or agree with or ignore.  This is long and rambling because I've been pretty rambling since Tuesday night. So read at your own risk and feel comfortable with ignoring.

There have been a lot of accusations that the Dem leadership and/or the "liberal elite" (whatever the fuck is meant by that) live in their bubbles in San Francisco and New York and Portland (and I would assume my college town of Chapel Hill) and they've lost touch with "real America" whatever the hell that is.  I'm also reading a counter to that, that it's Billy Bob Joe Bubba in Podunkville, Kansas that is the one in the bubble, unknowing (and uncaring) of anything much that goes on beyond the next corn field.

Look, we ALL live in not one but many bubbles.  Think of it as a big-ass series of Venn diagrams (I know, I just lost the Billy Bobs) with overlaps, intersections and in some cases completely separate bubbles.  As I said, I live in a college town in a Southern state that defies categorization as blue or red but I also don't believe that it is purple.  Chapel Hill is such a bubble that the late unlamented Senator Jesse Helms suggested we save some money on building a zoo and just build a fence around the town.  As it has become more of a bedroom community for Research Triangle Park, it may not be quite as librul, but it is still definitely an outlier.

At the same time, I've spent most of my 35 year professional career working in the aforementioned RTP, which is dominated by large multi-national technology and pharmaceutical companies.  Big on open borders and loving their H-1B visas and generally fiscally conservative/free-market but fairly tolerant on social issues.  With the exception of a couple of my neighbors, I'd wager that not a single person that I have a social connection with in Chapel Hill voted for The Trumpster.  But I know for a fact that there are people that I have a work relationship with that voted for him, whether or not they held their nose when they did.

I also have a relationship with the western part of the state, where the textile mills have shut down and the mining operations have mostly moved out and logging has died down and the damn hippies have taken over Asheville and are starting to encroach on many of the smaller towns.  The natives vote heavily GOP and every damn one of them had a Trump sign on their lawn - but they also have Confederate battleflags on their pickup trucks and voted hard for the state amendment banning gay marriage before the SCOTUS weighed in.  I'll come back to this point in my next post.  Yes, their lives are tough and in many cases ruled by opioid addiction and diabetes (go to Walmart in some of these towns and look at all the guys younger than me scooting around in the electric shopping carts).  But their older siblings were meth addicts and their parents were potheads and alcoholics and their grandparents were 'shiners - things have sucked for them for generations. I really don't mean to be unsympathetic - I do get that they're in a tough place that has gotten progressively tougher due to a number of factors beyond their control.

I have no doubt that millennials living in Cambridge live in a different bubble and people living in Bugfuck, Mississippi live in another bubble still.  Where I have issue is this idea that one bubble is more important or more real or more "American" than another.  This idea that "the heartland" is the real America and the cities (in particular the coastal cities like NY and Boston and LA and San Fran) are "the other" and somehow less American.  The map that shows the concentration of 50% of the US population in a fairly small footprint that is being used to justify the Electoral College says something very different to me - it says that we're undervaluing the votes of a large number of American citizens just because they live near their neighbors.

I (and many like me) have been accused of living in an echo chamber.  Yeah, maybe.  But we all do - that's the nature of social media as we tend to "friend", "follow" and listen to people that share our views.  But we also have had a fundamental shift in the way news is sourced over the past 50 years that we are still coming to grips with.  When I was a kid, it didn't matter where you lived - you got your news from a limited numbers of sources.  Walter Cronkite or Howard K Smith or a couple of other national news anchors, your local newspaper (or two, depending on how large a town you lived in) and maybe a news magazine like Time or Newsweek.  That was pretty much it as local TV news tended (and still tends) to focus on local crime, feel-good stuff and not much else.

Today there are 1000s of news (and "news") sources to choose from and we have access to an amazing number of information (and misinformation) sources.  And therein lies both our path forward and our biggest challenge.  I'll fully admit that I get much of my political news from Vox, TalkingPointsMemo and a handful of other progressive-leaning sourced.  I also scan the Washington Post and NY Times and Raleigh N&O headlines and other more mainstream news sources. And I hit Twitter for posts from people that I think have good ideas and a good handle on what's going on.  I like to think that I do some due dlilgence and check out sources and demand attribution and try to ensure that what I'm reading has a basis in objective truth.  The wingnuts will deride you for depending on the NY Times as the defining source of your bubble - so will I as they've fallen well-short of what I expect a real investigative news source to do the past 18 months.  Use multiple sources and question if they seem to be repeating each other.

I have friends though that get their information from Breitbart and Fox News and Hannity and Laura Ingraham and I just smh.  I do read the stuff they post from time to time and it creates a fictional reality where elections are stolen from them and the only racism is reverse racism and Hillary killed Vince Foster and and and and I just can't read anymore.  The point being, I guess, that there are echo chambers and there are echo chambers and we continue to struggle to figure out how to deal with outright, demonstrable lies that other have no issue completely believing and repeating ad nauseum.

So where we used to all get our news from kind of the same sources - at least everyone in Nashville when I was growing up had the Tennessean (morning paper), the Banner (evening paper) and three major network newscasts and not much else.  Whether those news sources were impartial nor not, good or bad or whatever, we all got pretty much the same info. Now as part of our bubble choices, we also make news source choices that further focus us on our own bubble/echo chamber.

Where am I going with this?  Hell, I don't know - I told you I was going to be rambling.  But I guess I'm going a couple of places.  One is that with the proliferation of news sources (and more importantly, access to them), there really is no excuse to NOT find better sources for your information than propaganda sites run by Trump's Goebbels.  I get that they may tell you what you want to hear but that isn't necessarily the truth.  When I read crap that people post from Breitbart, it is often almost always unattributed, patently false bullshit that assumes you've read the rest of their crap and believed it so it forms the foundation for the next layer of bullshit.  I'm not saying that because it is reactionary, racist, sexist horse manure - I'm saying it because it is easily-researched and easily-refuted horse manure if anyone even half tried.

So yes, we're all in a series of sometimes-overlapping bubbles but so what?  It is YOUR responsibility as a thinking, vote-having adult human to figure this shit out.  Figure out who you can really listen to - not because they're telling you what you want to hear, but instead what you need to know.  

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At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Hunsberger said...

Very true, throughout the election cycle my Google Now fed me elections related posts from across the spectrum and the one thing that struck me about all of them was the amount of spin involved. If you find a good news organization that presents the facts minus all the emotional adjectives, please share.


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