We have hundreds of friends on Facebook. We follow hundreds of people on Twitter. We interact with dozens a people a day, spread across an equal number of timezones or even countries.
We follow funny blogs, meme-generators, and news sites on both of these services, and they deliver dozens of posts that we like and re-share to all of our friends, so they can see that we like them.
We feel like we’re making such a difference in the world! It’s so amazing! A collective consciousness if forming, almost — who can stop it? Who can fight it?
Disadvantaged groups are in control of such power! They now have a voice in the world so that everyone can hear of their struggles, thanks to the Internet! Social behavior that would’ve been illegal 50 years ago, and just an enormous faux pas even 25 years ago is now completely normal and accepted… isn’t it?
I mean, that’s what all my friends think. And I’m sure yours largely do too, if you’re probably reading this.
The reality in the rest of America, however, as we just learned, is very different.
Stages of Grief
We’re still not even in the postmortem stage from the Trump election win in 2016, but we’re close. Right now, people don’t know who to blame, mostly because the final results were such a surprise. Nobody saw the coming — not even FiveThirtyEight, who haven’t predicted an election wrong before this one.
And why would they? Why would any of us?
How many Trump supporters are you close to, on a daily basis? How many do you talk to daily, as a friend? Not bickering with online, but in person — where you’re more than just text making them angry on a website, but a living, breathing person in front of them, that they can see, and hear.
If the answer is zero, honestly I don’t blame you. Trump supporters aren’t usually… let’s just say it’s hard to have a conversation with someone who’s starting position is “Ban the Muslims/Mexicans, Build The Wall, Lock Her Up!” There’s not much gray area — not much room for common ground.
Even I only had about half a dozen, and they were all online. Mostly family members who survived earlier Facebook purges and friends from high school who stayed behind in the small town area where I grew up, and never left.
After this past week, of course, I’m no longer friends with them. Not because of anything they did or said, of course — most of them were fairly well-behaved — but because I realized, after the election, that we’re not really friends.
I didn’t talk to them in person. I couldn’t affect their lives in any meaningful way. In any discussion, there was never any meeting of the minds — no give and take. Every conversation could stop immediately when the aggrieved party wanted it to, by just walking away. There was never any reconciliation attempted, because there was no need to.
Our interaction was limited to them sharing their funny conservative memes from ridiculous websites and fake news sources, while I would groan inwardly and put up with them, because I was being “open-minded.”
They were certainly never going to change my mind about Hillary Clinton by posting some link about a “child sex ring in Macedonia run by the Clintons” (all false, of course), and I was never going to change their mind about voting for ol’ Agent Orange himself by telling them about his six bankruptcies, piggish attitudes about women, or the ridiculousness of building a “90 foot wall on the border of Mexico.”
So, why keep up the charade of pretending like we’re friends?
Fair and Balanced
However, I didn’t stop there. How many like-minded people are you friends with on Facebook, that you also don’t see in person? A dozen? Ten dozen? A thousand? How many do you follow on Twitter?
Do you think these relationships are healthy? Do you think you’re making a difference in their lives? That by liking their posts, and replying to their comments on yours that you’re doing something nice for them?
Maybe — just maybe these interactions are robbing you of the desire to make actual relationships, with those people around you.
Now — before you get outraged — I’m not saying you can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone in a purely online fashion. I met my partner online, so I of all people am not saying that.
I’m just saying you can’t have a dozen simultaneously. Or ten dozen. You’re not Scarlet Johansson’s character from the movie Her. And you certainly can’t have 1,456 real “friends” on Facebook, no matter how much you like seeing the number.
These interactions you are having on Facebook, or Twitter, with people you rarely ever see in person, are having a negative influence on your life, and you may not even know it.
They momentarily quench the desire to have real connections, out there, in the real world. Friends you can visit in the hospital if they’re in a car accident. Friends with who you can move a couch. Friends you can go to a party with, or to the park.
And most importantly, friends who, if they don’t think exactly the same as you, may come around to your way of thinking when it’s voting time.
Beating Us at Our Own Game
Because you see, like it or not, this is something “the other side” has the non-Trump-voter beat in, wholly — real life social engagement.
They have churches, where they see the same people regularly, every week.
They go to tailgate parties. Constantly.
They go to real parties, out in the woods, where cell phone connections are spotty and where you’re forced to, you know, talk to people.
And when it comes to voting time, they’re the ones telling their real-life connections, in person, who to vote for.
Yes, they have huge social media presence online, mostly — the recent trouble with fake conservative news being spread like wildfire across Facebook being an example of that — but it’s not their only, or even their most major form of social engagement.
Human beings are social creatures — it’s coded into our DNA. You may think you can survive without a tribe, or a group, but you can’t — that’s just our pleasant, safe, modern world fooling you.
When we human beings were first coming down from the trees and learning to walk on just two legs, the tribes we formed required people to work together to achieve goals — you had to know like-minded people (or in this case, hominids), or you didn’t survive. Human beings weren’t the fastest, or the strongest; we didn’t have sharp fangs or claws or sticky webs to trap pray in; but what we had was cooperation.
And those that could work together with others had their genes propagated to the next generation.
So what can you do? If you’re not going to delete your Facebook account in protest of their out-of-control “sharing” feature (I’m still considering it), start by unfriending everybody you don’t see on a daily basis.
Make a few exceptions for those two or three people who, no matter what the geographic distance, you’re still soul mates with. It won’t hurt.
Make an exception for close family that aren’t racist.
But that’s it.
Stop spending time talking to people who you can’t make a meaningful difference in their lives. It’ll hurt at first; I know. But soon that desire will turn into actual action that may help those that are close by to you right now, especially if you live in an area that’s a bit more heterogeneous. (You know, like those “swing” states that Hillary all lost.)
And that is where the culture war will be won. Not by posting rebuttals or Snopes articles on Facebook and Twitter. But by showing people who look and think slightly differently than you how you’re not a caricature.
And maybe, must maybe, they won’t vote next time for a man who thinks that women’s bodies are up for grabs, if you have enough money, or that it’s okay to mock the disabled, or that all illegal immigrants are murderers and drug-dealers.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not talking about possibly changing the minds of any Trump voters — you should know that’s not possible by now. You’re talking about a kind of person who believes in fake news, without any facts, and when confronted with facts to the contrary, simply chooses not to believe in them. You can’t change that kind of person’s mind, so don’t try.
I’m talking about possibly convincing someone who doesn’t vote, or who is undecided, that they might want to try voting. Those are the changes you can make. And they can be made.